“Wait, wait, wait,” I said around a mouth full of chips as I held up my hands and stopped all conversation. “So you’re saying Sean…Mr. Manicure and huge opposition of anything manual labor…is actually the one responsible for my accidents over the past few months?”
Ghost snorted. “No one has enough hours in their lifetime to orchestrate that many accidents. He was responsible for the major catastrophes, yes. The rest...that was just your natural talent at being a walking disaster.”
Hours later, we were back at Ghosts house, safely tucked away from gun toting goons and homicidally insane exes.
After Sean’s unfortunate injury (I say with a chuckle), the scene was soon swarmed by the freaking SWAT team I had been praying for the entire time. I guess the old adage is true: better late than never. Oh, who am I kidding? I shrieked hysterically at them when they finally arrived. If it hadn’t been for Kade literally holding me back, I was pretty certain I would have shot my second and third person in one night.
After the property was swarmed by the boys in blue and tactical support in black, Kade and Ghost disappeared with a couple of Men in Black types that showed up on the heels of our saviors. They were gone for almost an hour, leaving Sam and I with the unpleasant business of trying to explain what the hell happened. Captain Hampton, a rotund man who was hell bent on finding us guilty of something, didn’t take kindly to the fact that Sam and I were still pretty much in the dark about what really happened and why. Needless to say, it wasn’t the most productive conversation of our lives.
Thankfully Ghost and Kade returned just as I was reaching my breaking point. I was confused, hungry, tired, and freezing my ass off (both literally and figuratively) and Captain Ass-Hat was going out of his way to treat us like we were the enemy combatants. Like us two manly chicks had been the one to storm the castle gates fully armed with a Taser. Fortunate for my clean police record, Kade arrived just in time to stop me from assaulting a police officer with what I hoped would have been a fierce right hook.
After a few veiled exchanges between Captain Ass-Hat and Kade, we were reluctantly told we could leave. No further questions were asked and I took great pleasure in the fact that Captain Ass-Hat seemed particularly annoyed with our sudden departure. Just for good measure, as we walked away I glanced over my shoulder and gave him my most exaggerated Miss America smile that only pissed him off more.
The car ride back had been heavy and silent. I’m not really sure what one says after all we had been through, but I was pretty certain anything I would have said would have only made the situation worse so I kept my trap shut. Sam did the same. Ghost did his best to break the tension, but we were all too wiped to attempt any idle chit chat. Kade drove silently, waves of anger still coursing off him. I didn’t dare look at him let alone try to talk to him. His mood was so fierce I actually wondered if maybe we wouldn’t have been better off left with the armed gunmen.
Once we reached the house, Ghost insisted that we get cleaned up and grab something to eat before discussing the night’s events. A shower sounded heavenly so I didn’t argue.
After an hour standing in the world’s most luxurious shower, I finally emerged pruned, red skinned and famished. When I reached the kitchen, it was obvious everyone else had eaten, but that didn’t stop me from looting the fridge with no shame and eating over the sink like a troll.
It was only when I heard Ghost mention that it all started with my staged accidents that I finally turned toward the room with a sandwich hanging from my mouth.
“Sean was just the catalyst,” Kade clarified, speaking for the first time.
I had given Kade a wide berth when I came into the kitchen. As I had raided the fridge, he had taken up residence in the doorway on the other side of the kitchen, silently nursing a beer.
“Desperation makes people do stupid things. And Sean had became so desperate towards the end that he wasn’t above hurting you, or worse, to get what he wanted,” Ghost explained as he reached across the island and snatched a handful of chips from the open bag in front of me. “But if it makes you feel any better, he didn’t plan to outright kill you. At least, not at first.”
I stared at him in horror as he happily munched on his chips after that monstrous admission.
“Thanks for the comforting thought,” I mumbled under my breath.
He smirked and gave me a playful wink.
“So what other details did I miss?” I asked, grabbing my own handful of chips before taking a seat on one of the open bar stools.
Sam at least had the right idea to look guilty. I knew there was no way her insatiable need for gossip would allow her to sit here for an hour without pressing them for information.
“So end the suspense already,” I said, throwing a chip into my mouth and munching loudly. “What is it exactly that Sean was so hell bent on getting back that he tried to have me killed at least half a dozen times?”
Kade and Ghost looked over to Sam, who was practically jumping out of her seat.
Ghost shoved more chips into him mouth, making a gallant sweeping gesture to Sam who couldn’t keep quiet any more.
“You will never believe it, Addy,” she said, bouncing up and down as she spoke. “All of this… everything we went through tonight…every evil thing that schmuck Sean did…was over, get this… costume jewelry.”
I stared at her for a moment, waiting for her to go into further explanation.
When none came, I just stared at her in confusion.
“Costume jewelry,” I repeated slowly.
Her head bobbled up and down.
“Sam,” I said slowly. “I’m not sure how I say this without sounding like an ungrateful bitch, but I already guessed that much. Any other detail you care to share?”
Her brows drew together quickly.
“How could you have already known?” she asked, clearly deflated by my lack of enthusiasm.
My will power wasn’t strong enough to resist rolling my eyes dramatically.
“You mean besides the fact that we found a room stock piled with it or the fact that Sean came back to retrieve it from the garage while armed henchmen were hunting all of us? Even I pieced that much together.”
A little bit of the wind went out of her sails with my less-then-nice response.
“Sorry,” I mumbled.
She didn’t respond but sat there quietly, a little embarrassed to apparently find out she was the last to know what was going on after all.
“So what is so damn important about a bunch of gold plated metal and cubic zirconia?” I asked, turning my attention to Kade.
He was quiet for a moment before pushing off the door frame, setting his empty beer bottle on the counter as he walked around it and retrieved four more beers from the fridge. He handed one to both Sam and Ghost who accepted with a mumbled thanks. They both immediately opened theirs, downing a few sips. After tonight’s events, I could see the appeal for alcohol.
Kade held out the third bottle to me, almost like an olive branch. I wasn’t normally a beer drinker, but considering all that I had been through and all that I was learning, maybe alcohol was what I needed, even if I didn’t enjoy the bitter taste in which it was being offered.
I hesitantly met his gaze and accepted the unopened bottle with a shy smile.
The room remained silent for a moment except for the escape of air from Kade’s bottle as he twisted off the cap and threw it on the counter. He took a few slow sips, watching me intently as I played with the label of my bottle.
“Gold plated metal,” he finally responded. “There’s nothing special about it at all.” He leaned over the counter so that we were eye level, and grabbed a chip from the bag in front of me. “Now the fake stones? Everything is special about those.”
It was weird being in such close proximity of him after everything we had been through in the past few hours. My body thrummed at the air of tension surrounding us both. Sadly I didn’t know if it was a good or bad thing, though considering my erratic heartbeat, I’m guessing it was the former.
“I don’t understand,” I responded quietly.
He took another sip of his beer, never taking his eyes off of me. “The jewelry itself was an elaborate method of getting the product into the country undetected.”
“And what product would that be?” I asked in confusion.
“Heroin,” Ghost answered with a snort.
My eyes bugged open as I whipped my head around. “Drugs?”
I looked quickly over to Sam who had the same look of shock and disbelief on her face.
“You’re saying that that pretentious prick Sean was a drug dealer?” she asked incredulously.
Ghost laughed and shook his head.
“Your boy Sean was known for doing many things to make some easy cash. Selling street drugs wasn’t one of them.”
“If Sean wasn’t selling it, why did he have it then,” Sam challenged.
Ghost grinned as he took another sip of his beer, enjoying the utter shock that he had clearly put us both in.
“You see, your boy Sean...,” he began.
“He’s not my boy,” I said pointedly.
That earned me a wink.
“Sorry, your ex-boy Sean was many things, but a low level street pusher wasn’t one of them. No, that type of thing was far too many levels below him and his social class,” he answered, still grinning.
I looked back at Kade across the island. He was remaining suspiciously quiet.
“If he wasn’t selling it, then what he was doing?” I asked.
Kade watched my face, barely blinking. I had the odd suspicion that he was trying to get a read on me to see whether or not this was new information or if I had suddenly become a good actress.
Apparently satisfied with what he saw, Kade responded matter of fact.
“Sean was responsible for all trafficking between the US and Columbia for the Romero Cartel.”
“Sean is a drug trafficker,” Sam squeaked out a few decibels higher than most dogs could hear, though she did better than I did since I couldn’t even find my voice to eek out a response.
“I don’t understand,” I finally stammered out. “How could he be trafficking for a Cartel? I mean, wouldn’t I notice something like that?”
Kade shook his head slowly. “Not if he didn’t want you to. He had the perfect set up with the PR firm since he worked in their International Promotions and Sales division. Traveling back and forth been countries for the various clients he had was part of the job so nothing there would have raised any red flags.”
“If what you’re saying is true, I still don’t understand how I didn’t notice.”
Kade took a few slow sips from his bottle.
“To be fair,” he said slowly, “Sean has only been trafficking for Ricardo Romero officially for the past five months. If things hadn’t escalated quickly over the past three, in likelihood you would have started to notice the signs and started to suspect something was off. Well, more so then you already were.”
I gave him a confused look. “What makes you think I was suspicious of Sean?”
Kade said nothing but looked at me with an expression that said it all.
“Moving on,” I mumbled under my breath.
“Sean met Romero through a mutual business associate a little over a year ago. Romero had a need and Sean was looking for an opportunity so it was the perfect fit. Romero has spies all over the US, Europe and South America so he happened to know that Sean was an acquaintance of an old burn out chemist from college that discovered a fool proof way to chemically bond the purest heroin into a moldable paste that would not only pass drug detection, but wouldn’t alter the purity of the product when cooked.”
“But why involve Sean? Why not go to the chemist directly?” I asked.
Ghost laughed. “Ricardo Romero didn’t become head of the Romero Cartel by making deals directly. That’s what he pays his lackeys for. Ricardo never gets his own hands dirty. Why should he when he can employee people who are expendable to do the work for him? If these people are smart, follow the letter of the law he’s laid out, and do the job he hires them for, they make a lot of money in a very short time and go about their lives with no issue so long as they keep their mouths shut.”
“And if they screw up,” Sam piped up beside me.
Ghost turned toward her. “Then he expends them.”
“So Sean was the perfect patsy because he already had a relationship with this chemist,” I stated.
Kade nodded. “Anthony Jensen is a former drug addict with paranoia levels off the charts. Romero had heard rumors that he had accidentally stumbled across a solution to the biggest problem plaguing international drug traffickers: untraceable import of illegal narcotics. Romero wanted him on his payroll and off of everyone else’s radar.
“It wasn’t difficult to squash the rumors so that his rivals didn’t come up with the same plan, but approaching Jensen was a different issue. He’s a complete recluse, highly paranoid, and difficult to find. Sean was one of the few people in college that had formed a bond with him so that put Sean in a unique position that was very useful for Romero.
“Romero’s men did the foot work and located Jensen. Sean made the approach. Long story short, it took a couple of months to forge their old friendship, but once they did, Sean had no problem getting Jensen on board. Using his work with the PR firm to get in and out of the country under the radar, he set up a meet between Jensen and Romero. Jensen couldn’t refuse the seven figure price Romero was offered. Along with the promise that Sean would be his soul contact, Jensen went to work and in just a month, delivered a prototype to Sean.”
“When did he complete the prototype?” I asked.
Kade watched me silently before answering. “Four months ago.”
“A month before my accidents started,” I replied.
“A month after Sean accidentally gave away the prototype to his girlfriend,” Ghost said.
I looked over to Ghost and felt the color in my cheeks drain.
“The costume jewelry he gave me after he had gotten back from Peru,” I said quietly.
Ghost nodded, crossing his arms over his chest. “Sean had just returned from his presentation with Romero. He personally demonstrated that the new form of transport worked, getting it through both North and South American customs completely undetected.”
“But how?” Sam asked. “Doesn’t the DEA or Customs have drug sniffing dogs or something?”
“In this case, they’re completely useless. The rocks are crushed down into a fine powder. When the bonding agent is applied, it becomes moldable so that it can be shaved and buffed down to resemble the perfect knock off diamond. Or as you women like to refer to them, cubic zirconia. Perfectly legal to ship and undetectable to drug sniffing dogs. Sean simply put the product in his carry on case and walked off the plane with it. No questions asked. No suspicions raised.
“The ingenious part was no modification was needed after it got through customs. Romero could sell it exactly how he obtained it with no issue. He was actually bold enough to market it as something new called Diamond Rock. Rock so pure it sparkles. Like typical street Rock, once it’s cooked down over an open flame for less than a minute, it burns and is ready for injection with no negative side effects of the bonding agent.”
“But drug enforcement must have learned about Diamond Rock. Surely they could put something in place to stop it from getting through Customs,” Sam stated.
“Sure, if they had reason to suspect a shipment was not what it appeared to be,” Kade answered. “But Romero didn’t get this far and make his fortune by taking unnecessary or uncalculated risks. Since Romero has a stake in almost everything everywhere these days, he simply had his items shipped through international mail. No need to worry about a bunch of paperwork when the items are actually being declared legally during the time of shipment from all major international freight companies. Foreign distributors send it to all US stores that sell those types of items. And since almost every big chain or mom-and-pop shop sells costume jewelry, it’s nearly impossible for the DEA or Customs to catch. All Romero had to do was notify his people a shipment is en-route and they picked it up from whichever store it was shipped to before it was unpacked by the stocking department.”
“That’s pretty damn ingenious,” Sam said in disbelief.
Kade nodded and took a sip.
“But how did the prototype get to Addison?” she asked, pointing to me as if they didn’t have a clue who I was.
Ghost laughed. “Sean was in the dog house and since his usual style of apology was a piece of jewelry…,” he shrugged. “Mix ups happen quiet easily, especially when you’re in a rush.”
“Makes sense,” I replied, peeling at the bottle label again. “I thought it was odd that he would suddenly give me a piece of costume jewelry, but I was so annoyed with him that I didn’t care about the gift so I didn’t really pay it any attention at the time.”
Everyone stared at me quietly.
“What,” I said, looking around the island. “It was my birthday and he had missed it without so much as a freaking text. I was pissed. And despite what you may think of me, sparkly pieces of jewelry do not make me go all gooey at the center. I didn’t want a freaking gift. I wanted an apology and I didn’t get one.”
“And since Addison is a snob when it comes to things like costume jewelry, she gave it to me,” Sam volunteered.
“Thanks Sam,” I replied in a snarky way. “And for the record, it had nothing to do with it being fake. I don’t do gaudy but we all know that’s all your wardrobe usually consists of.”
Ghost busted out laughing.
“A girl-on-girl fight would be the icing on the cake after tonight,” he said with a grin.
I rolled my eyes. “No such luck Ghost. This is how we usually interact so your dreams of pillow fights in our underwear are never going to happen.”
“A man can hope,” he mumbled under his breath, taking a chug from his beer.
“So now what?” I asked, turning back to Kade.
He stood up, stretching his arms over his head. I couldn’t help but notice how his shirt clung to his body as my eyes were perfectly level with his chiseled chest.
I took a long sip of beer to cool me down.
“Now we take down Romero,” Kade replied as he leaned back against the counter.
“What do you mean take down Romero?” I asked.
Kade’s gaze bore into mine.
“Exactly what I said,” he replied.
“The two of you are going to take down the head of a Columbia Cartel? Who the hell are you, Rambo or something?” I finally asked, though the question had been floating in my head all night
Kade didn’t respond, but Ghost did.
“We were hired by some of Uncle Sam’s people to find out where the flow of product was coming from and to stop the bleeding.”
“That’s pretty damn vague,” I replied, never taking my eyes off Kade.
Kade shrugged. “You were expecting more detail than that?”
“It would be nice,” I replied.
He shook his head slowly, but kept his eyes on me.
After a few moments of silence, or what I think most people would call a pregnant pause, he sighed slightly and oh so subtly rolled his eyes.
“I can’t tell you who we are and we can’t tell you what we do,” he finally answered.
Oh no he didn’t.
“I tripped over a body tonight. Got shot at. Had a car blown up less than ten feet from my face. Been hit over the head. Tied up. Had a gun pointed at my face. And shot a man. All because of whatever the hell it is you and Ghost are neck deep in. So while I still have full control of my senses, how about you cut me a little slack here and drop a hint or two as to who the hell you two are. If not, I will be forced to find a loaded gun, which I envision I should have no problem finding in this house, and shoot you.”
I heard Ghost laugh beside me and watched the sexy smirk flitter across Kade’s face.
Glad he found me so damn amusing.
Seconds rolled by and Kade remained silent. I mentally plotted where in the house I was likely to find a gun and started to stand when Kade finally spoke.
“Ghost and I are…freelancers.”
“What the hell does that mean?” I asked.
He casually shrugged. “Let’s just say we work under government radar.”
“Whose government?” I asked.
“So you’re private contractors?” I stated rather than asked.
He shrugged. “Something along those lines.”
“And Uncle Sam? He hires you to do things otherwise deemed illegal on foreign soil or within our own country, like spying on people?” Sam asked, crossing her arms over her chest.
Kade didn’t respond but gave Sam a passing glance.
“Let me guess,” I piped in, hurt by the truth of his revelation. “You can neither confirm nor deny your work with the government. For lack of a better word, you both operate as ghosts.”
Neither responded, not that I expected that they would.
“What’s going to happen to Sean?” I asked, pissed off and hurt by their veiled admissions.
“Nothing you need to concern yourself with,” Ghost responded more serious then I had ever heard him before.
“What the hell does that mean?” I asked, turning towards him. “Is he going to end up in Guantanamo or something? Water boarded until he admits his role in the Romero Cartel? Nails pulled out one by one until he gives up his sources and tells them where Ricardo Romero is holed up?”
Ghost smirked at my comment which only pissed me off more.
“You’ve seen too many movies, Walker,” he said matter of fact, oblivious to the fact (or more likely not caring) he was pissing me off.
“And you’ve been in the shadows too long,” I shot back with venom.
“Sean will stand trial for his role in the Romero Cartel,” he countered. “If he’s smart, he’ll plea deal and roll over on Ricardo. Sean is a low level pawn. In the grand scheme of things, they’re not that interested in him. What they really want is the ring leader so if he’s a good boy and cooperates, he’ll get a slap on wrist, testify against Romero and get a new identity through Wit Sec.”
“Wit Sec?” Sam asked with a furrowed brow.
“Witness protection,” I replied quietly.
Kade watched me closely, folding his arms across his chest.
“For someone who shot him not three hours ago, you suddenly seem overwhelmingly concerned for his wellbeing. In case you may have forgotten, he sent some of Romero’s people after you to get back a necklace. When that failed, they escalated their recovery plan, with his full knowledge and cooperation,” Kade said quietly.
I looked up at him and met his gaze.
“I’m not concerned for his wellbeing,” I snapped. “Sean gets whatever the hell he deserves. Hell, I hope he gets more than he deserves for being a lying, murderous scumbag. Wit Sec seems like too fair of a deal if you want the truth.”
“Really?” Ghost asked causally. “Because you seem to have your back up about him suddenly.”
“Really? You think my defensiveness is because of Sean? Maybe it’s because I don’t like being lied to,” I said, turning toward him, “which you both have been doing since the moment we met. Maybe it’s because I just found out that the both of you used me as some sort of pawn in order to draw out Sean and his Cartel buddies. Maybe it’s because nothing that has come out of either of your mouths has had any ring of truth to it until now, when you’ve had no choice but to come clean.”
“Don’t mince words, Walker,” Ghost said, leaning forward with a playful grin on his face. “Tell us what you really think.”
“What I think is that you’re both some sort of spy for some unnamed agency and you used me as bait to draw out Sean and his dangerous pals.”
Ghost snorted. “After all that we’ve said and all that you’ve seen, you still think we work for Uncle Sam? I said it once, but I’ll say it again, you’ve seen too many movies. You’re over-romanticizing the situation. The ‘unnamed agency’ you refer to does not, in fact, employee us. We don’t work for any government sanctioned agency on national or foreign soil. Our only interest is our own. We choose the jobs that we want for the governments we want.”
“So you’re guns for hire,” I shot back.
“Yes, but you already knew that,” Kade responded flatly.
I turned my attention back to him.
“In fact, I’m pretty certain I told you exactly that right before Sam tasered me,” he replied with deadly calm.
We all fell silent. Me, because I couldn’t refute his point. Sam because she was simply speechless. Kade and Ghost, well, we had learned not to expect them to volunteer much.
“So what now?” I asked after a few moments silence.
“Now,” Kade repeated, once again watching me. “Now nothing.”
“What does that mean?” I asked in confusion.
Despite my anger at their lies, or the fact that underneath it all I was still shaking like a leaf over the very fact my life had been in jeopardy not more than three hours ago, the two words “now nothing” scared me more than anything else.
In the short time I had gotten to know Kade, distrusted him, needed him, relied on him and being perfectly honest, carnally lusted after him, the idea of “now nothing” set off alarm bells worse than anything I had experienced tonight.
My use to him was over. We could part ways, never needing to see each other again. Kade had started off this mission with one goal in mind: bring down Ricardo Romero. To do that, he went after the weakest link in Romero’s armor: Sean. And to get to Sean, he had used me as bait. Or did he?
I played back the past few months. Kade was noticeably absent until two weeks ago when we met for the first time. Even after our first meeting, he was absent most of the time. I failed to really see where it was that Kade had actually used me for the purpose of his assignment.
Had Kade used me to get to Sean? It wasn’t as though I had introduced them. It wasn’t as if we had become friends and he had ingrained himself in our lives.
No, Ghost was right. I was over-romanticizing what happened.
The only time both Kade and Sean had ever been present in the same room had been after I was attacked in my apartment the morning Kade and I first met. I remembered how he had gone deadly still and started scanning the area after I told him what happened. He hadn’t known what was going on, which was strange if he was keeping tabs on me.
The only time he had even asked about or met Sean was in the hospital and taken an immediate dislike to him for reasons unknown at the time. Kade had even flat out warned me to stay away from Sean two weeks later, still not eluding to why other than he said Sean wasn’t who he appeared to be. In hindsight, that’s a strange warning if you’re goal is to use someone to gain access to someone else. Even after all that, he still didn’t insert himself in my world with Sean.
So why then was Kade living in my apartment building? If Sean was his target, why had I been the one he had been around? The one he was protecting, even when it became was pretty apparent that I had no clue what the hell was going on? Trying to gain my trust and get me on his side would have been futile to achieving his goal at that point. He had already tipped his hand about Sean.
“Why,” I found myself saying out loud suddenly.
All eyes turned to me.
Mental forehead slap.
Once again I was having a very deep and thoughtful conversation with myself and once again I failed to keep it completely silent as is usually the point when one has a thoughtful conversation not intended for others ears.
“Why what?” Kade asked, picking up on my question immediately.
“Why were you at my apartment building?” I asked, figuring now was as good a time as any to bite the bullet. “Why have you been staying in my building if your end goal was to get to Sean, but not to use me to do it? I could understand the play if you had actually formed a relationship with me to ingrain yourself into our lives, but you didn’t. I didn’t even know you were there until I was attacked. Even after that you kept your distance from me and avoided any further direct contact with Sean. If I wasn’t a means to get to him, then why were you there?”
I saw the clench of Kade’s jaw.
“What purpose did I serve in all of this?” I asked.
He was quiet a minute before responding.
Okay, I’ll admit that stung slightly.
“I don’t buy that. You’re living in my apartment building. I’m not stupid enough to believe you just happened to come across a vacant apartment in the building of the woman who just happened to be dating your target through a happy little coincidence. Clearly it was a strategic move. The question now is why?”
Kade took a long sip from his almost empty beer, his eyes never leaving my face.
“How honest of an answer do you want?” he asked finally.
Well that didn’t sound like a pleasant answer was going to follow.
“The most honest one you’ll give,” I responded, now wishing I hadn’t asked.
Kade looked over to Ghost who simply nodded before turning his attention back to me.
“You served no purpose to any of this,” Kade responded. “The goal was never to use you to gain leverage over Sean or to insert myself in his life. You were nothing more than a means to an end.”
Forget stung. That comment hurt like hell.
“What the hell does that mean?” I asked point blank.
Kade clenched his jaw slightly before answering.
“It means that like Romero’s people, my interest in you was only in getting the necklace. The DEA and Customs couldn’t put any plans in place to stop the shipments because they didn’t know exactly what they were looking for. That necklace would have given us all the information we needed in order to counteract their trafficking methods.”
“And when you realized I didn’t have it?” I asked quietly.
Kade shrugged. “We knew at one point you did. After it became apparent it was no longer in your possession, it then became a matter of finding out what you did with it.”
“So you were keeping tabs on me so that I would lead you to the necklace,” I stated, rather than asked.
He nodded. “We couldn’t rule out the possibility that you knew about Sean’s extra circular activities and were just putting on an act. After the attack in your apartment, it became pretty obvious that if you did know about Sean, then you weren’t exactly clear on all the players in the game and potentially inserted yourself into dangerous waters. We kept an eye out on you just in case.”
Kade nodded towards Ghost.
“So you were following me too?” I questioned, turning my attention to him.
He nodded. “It always works best with two players. One out in the open and one hidden in the shadows.”
“If you guys were following me so closely, why didn’t you know that I had given it to Sam?”
“We never actually saw you with the necklace,” Ghost responded. “We didn’t know it was in your possession until we overheard Sean admitting to one of Romero’s generals a month later that he had mistakenly given it you.”
“So you also searched my apartment,” I stated matter of fact.
“We both did,” Kade answered instead.
“What the hell? Have I unknowingly put up a sign inviting every creeper and secret agent to just let themselves in and help themselves to my things?” I asked sarcastically.
Ghost laughed. “No, but after all of this, maybe you should consider getting one.”
“Can I ask a question,” Sam said, speaking up for the first time.
All eyes turned to her, especially considering the fact she had her hand raised as though we were in school.
Kade gave a slight nod in her direction.
“As much fun as this is hashing through the events that lead us to tonight, and watching everyone try to ignore the obvious sexual tension in the room,” she said leaning forward, “there’s something that I’ve been wondering that no one has mentioned yet.”
“Which is?” Kade asked.
“How do you plan to catch Romero? If he has spies everywhere, I think it’s safe to assume he knows that Sean was arrested. Which means he probably also knows who you and Ghost are. You’ve likely lost your element of surprise.”
Sam had a very valid point. I had seen enough movies, and even a few documentaries, to know that Cartel’s didn’t get to be as powerful and as untouchable as they were without having bribed some officials. There had been enough cops at Sean’s house that someone was very likely on the Romero’s payroll and would be able to easily identify Kade and Ghost.
Kade and Ghost remained silent for a moment, giving each other a look I couldn’t decipher.
After a few seconds, they both burst out laughing. And watching Kade with his guard down, even if for only a few seconds, was pretty hypnotic.
“Walker, your friend is adorable,” Ghost said, wiping his eyes.
I didn’t miss the lighting quick smile that spread across Sam’s face before she tried to appear offended by his comment.
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” she asked indignantly.
Kade slammed back the rest of his beer then took two steps forward, leaning over the island until he was just inches away, his attention turned to Sam.
“It means that we don’t get caught. Ever. Romero may know that Sean was arrested and he may know that someone is coming after him, but trust me when I say…he won’t know it’s us. And he won’t see us coming,” Kade said with an arrogant calm.
“Think highly of yourself?” I asked, crossing my arms over my chest.
He looked back towards me, doing a slow perusal from my waist up until his eyes finally met mine. I tried to not to blush, but he once again had the mischievous gleam in his eyes that almost had me melting into a puddle on the floor.
“I don’t need to think highly of myself,” he said quietly. “I’m just that good.”
I probably don’t have to point out the fact that my pulse was in overdrive. So much was implied in that simple statement and considering that my emotions were all over the map, I prayed I didn’t pull him across the island and strip him naked then and there.
“Over the rainbow,” I blurted out in a moment of sheer panic.
Kade smirked, enjoying the fact that once again he had me squirming in my seat.
“Over the rainbow?” Sam asked with a furrowed brow. “What the hell does the Wizard of Oz have to do with anything?”
I took another gulp of beer before answering.
“I was wondering that myself,” I said, trying to regain my composure and pretend that once again Kade’s overt flirtations hadn’t impacted my sensibilities, or what little I had left. “Ghost was whistling it when he approached the garage. It put Sean into a complete panic. I was curious as to why.”
Ghost stood up, stretching causally before heading to the other side of the island and grabbing himself another beer from the fridge.
He cracked open the bottle, tossing the lid onto the counter beside Kade’s previously discarded cap. He took a few sips before stretching out his neck and running a hand over his bald scalp.
“It’s Romero’s signature,” he finally answered, leaning back and crossing his arms over his chest.
“Signature?” Sam asked, raking her eyes appreciatively over him from head to toe.
Ghost clearly didn’t miss the look. His attention was locked on Sam and I doubted me striping naked and running through the house with whip cream would have derailed his gaze.
“Romero’s favorite movie growing up was the Wizard of Oz,” Ghost said. “The rumor is that the few times that Romero has ever bothered to get his own hands dirty, he whistles ‘Somewhere over the Rainbow’ while doing it. Story has it that Romero does it to keep him focused and in control. He supposedly has his men doing it now too. In Columbia, it’s viewed as a death march. Anyone who hears it is about to die. It’s the only warning you get.”
Well that’s not psychotically terrifying.
“And Sean obviously knew this,” I said more to myself then the group.
Ghost nodded. “No one works for Ricardo Romero without knowing the tale.”
“Was Romero at the house?” I asked.
Ghost shook his head. “No sign of him based on what we can tell, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t. We’re not the only ones trained to move around unnoticed. Besides, your reputation for getting into trouble precedes you,” Ghost said, turning his attention to me. “After all the trouble you put him through and the risk to his empire, I wouldn’t be surprised to find out he was hiding out nearby, keeping tabs on things.”
“So you whistled that song to make Sean nervous?” I asked.
He nodded. “When people are jumpy and nervous of shadows, they have a tendency to shoot first and ask questions later. Putting the fear of God into him was the best way to guarantee that I didn’t accidentally get shot. For Sean, the fear of who he would be hurting was worse than anything else he could have done.”
We all fell silent again.
The lull in conversation mixed with the calming effects of alcohol and a sudden crash of adrenaline suddenly took over my body. I felt my eye lids getting heavy.
“What happens to us after all this?” Sam asked suddenly.
I jolted upright, vaguely aware that I may have started to doze off.
Kade straightened and stood beside Ghost, crossing his arms over his chest so that the two of them mirrored each other with equal degrees of calm and an air of danger.
“Now we get some sleep. We’ll take you home in the morning,” Kade said.
I nodded, barely able to form any more coherent words.
Sam and I stood and made our way back towards the bedrooms in silence. Without a word exchanged, Sam and I both walked into each of the two guest rooms, stopping in the doorway and turning back towards the hallway. Kade and Ghost had followed silently behind us, but I had grown use to their presence so I knew they were there. The four of us stood rooted on the spot, all of us exhausted but no one really wanting to part ways.
“You’re safe here,” Kade said, looking back and forth between us. “Despite whatever random ideas you had about me or Ghost, no one here is going to hurt you.”
I nodded and yawned, quickly covering my mouth.
“I guess we should thank you guys for saving our asses tonight,” I said after I had recovered. “Well, technically I guess I should thank you for all the times you saved my ass. I have unfortunately now lost count, but you know what I’m talking about.”
A corner of Kade’s mouth quirked upwards in a smile.
“After all of that…after everything we went through tonight and everything you had been trying to do for the past three months, did you at least get what it is you were looking for?” Sam asked, leaning against the doorframe in exhaustion.
Kade turned his attention to Sam and smiled.
“Is that your subtle way of asking whether or not we’re as good as we say we are?” Kade asked, crossing his arms over his chest.
She shrugged. “Something like that.”
He smiled and shook his head before reaching into his back pocket. He held his hand up and dangling from his fingers was the gaudy costume necklace Sam had been wearing just hours before.
“So mission accomplished then,” I said quietly.
Ghost shrugged. “Half of it anyways.”
I didn’t like the sound of that, having momentarily forgotten about their mission to capture Romero in addition to stopping his impressive trafficking ring.
“Don’t overthink it Princess,” Kade said quietly.
I turned my attention back to Kade.
“What makes you think I’m overthinking things?” I asked, stifling a yawn.
He said nothing, but tilted his head to the side slightly, his subtle way of saying that he knew I was full of it.
“Get some sleep,” he said in response.
With those parting words, he gave us a slight nod before heading down the hall and disappearing into the dark foyer.
“Just give a shout if you need anything,” Ghost said with grin then followed after Kade.
I turned back to Sam who was stretching and yawning like a cat. Needless to say, it was contagious and I found myself following suit.
“Night,” she said and headed into the room, shutting the door behind her.
I tried to respond, but I couldn’t stop yawning. Instead, I closed the door behind me, walked over to the bed, and fell face first into the mattress. I was out in seconds.