“The first thing you need to know about us, is that we’re not killing just for killing’s sake. We do no go to murdering sprees because we enjoy it. We kill those who deserve it, those who oppose us in the worst ways possible. We murder the ones that want to hurt us, that threatened those we love. We also do not kill for information, or because someone asks us to. We kill for our family’s sake and to warn others that to hurt us, is bringing a death sentence on themselves. Lastly, we kill for revenge.”
Gunner looked at me searchingly, and I wondered what he found in my face. I was quiet surprised at the admission of the killing, and million of questions circled my mind. But I knew he hadn’t finished yet, so I nodded to him slightly so he would continue.
And he did. “The reason we do not kill you is because right now, you are not a threat to our safety and well-being. Sure, you’ve seen us in action, but you were, as was already said, in the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s not your fault you witnessed it, therefore we do not have the legitimation to kill you, an innocent. But we also cannot let you free, because if you start telling stories around town, we will be in trouble, and that would count as a threat. We do not want to kill you, so we make sure you won’t give us an excuse to do so.” his words were harsh, but I needed to hear it. Wrapping things in cotton gloves would’ve angered me. I was glad Gunner was being frank with me.
Gunner leaned in toward me a little before he continued, his greenish-blue eyes on mine. “You wanted to know why we killed Calvin Moore, and why we’re after Echo, his daughter.” he paused, and his eyes looked at me with with seriousness and a hard edge I appreciated. “Calvin is part of the real mafia. We’re not the mafia, at least not as you see it. We fight for our lives, while the mafia just want to fight, period. Calvin was a minor part of the mafia, but even his small character allowed him to kill someone precious to us. A brother we loved.” His tone was flat, his eyes blank. I wondered if he seriously wasn’t affected by his own words, or if he just got used to the idea that his loved-one was dead and there was nothing he could do about it.
Either option wasn’t really good for his sanity, in my opinion.
“So you killed Mr. Moore to avenge your brother,” I completed his words, my voice rasp with misuse and nervousness. “But what does Echo have to do with that?” I asked, feeling somewhat desperate for Echo to be innocent.
“Echo’s the key here,” Gunner said quietly. “She’s the middle sister, and our source told us she started to get involved in the mafia with her dad two years ago. Her sisters, Emanie and Emmalee, has nothing to with this world and so does Jennifer Moore, her mother. But Echo knows things, and she’s the best spy, a young girl who looks cute and innocent but actually a prospect murderer.”
“Echo is not a murderer!” I found myself yelling, fear filling my heart. “Echo is a kind girl, an innocent one! She’s not involved with the mafia! I can understand that maybe Mr. Moore was part of it – I don’t say it makes any sense, but at least it’s possible because I don’t know a lot about him – but Echo I know, and she is not a spy! She can’t hurt a bug!”
“You’re blinded by your friendship,” Gunner said harshly. “Try to look beyond your feelings for her. Try to understand. If she was really all that, why would she miss school? Why would she disappear without a trace?”
“She can’t be a killer!” I screamed, looking at him with fury and I felt the tears rising to my eyes, but I didn’t cry. I will not cry. “You’re delusional if you think someone as sweet and gentle as Echo can be a spy for the freaking mafia!”
“Rae, please listen to me until I finish - “
“NO! You don’t make any sense so I will listen to you no more!”
“I am right, so just let me - “
“You are not! Get over yourself, asshole!”
It happened so fast, I didn’t even see it coming. One moment we were looking furiously into each other’s eyes, and the next thing I know he’s looming over me, his muscular body filling my sight, and his arms and legs caging me underneath his body. Suddenly my heart quickened, heat blossomed on my face, my breathing became something close to panting and my skin itched uncomfortably, as if I wanted him closer. He didn’t touch me, but his skin was so close to mine, and the awareness that it sparked made goosebumps cover my skin.
“Now are you willing to listen?” Gunner asked, greenish-blue eyes locking my own in an entrancement I was not ready for.
My breathe hitching, my lips dry, I somehow found the power to nod. It was like he made me submit to his dominance or some shit like that. I didn’t like it, but I was powerless to do anything about it.
“Good,” he said in that harsh tone. “Now try and understand. Echo is part of the mafia. She was involved in the murder of our brother in one way or another. Her dad may have done the act itself, but she had a role in it we’re trying to figure out yet. Our best assumption is that she seduced him into coming with her home or something but instead led him to his death.
“I know it’s hard to accept something like that. I know you’ll need time to process it. But eventually, you’ll understand that your friend has a few masks. And I’m truly sorry you had to find out about the real Echo Moore like that, but there’s nothing I can do about it. I’m just trying to keep my family safe, and if you can help me do so, so be it.”
His look was fierce, his love harsh in a way that only a warrior’s love can be. It made my heart ache yet soften for him. Because I could see the sincerity in his eyes; he wanted his step-siblings to be fine, his adoptive-father to be up and kicking. And despite what he’d just accused Echo of doing, I couldn’t help but sympathize. Yet there was another question that remained unanswered and despite the awkward position, my so-called submission, I needed to ask it. “Why would you get involved in this business to begin with, if all you want is to keep your family safe?” I asked, my voice rasp and soft.
Gunner looked down at me, his black hair like a messy curtain around his face. “Henry works in the enterprises industry. He’s very successful, very rich, and he intends to keep his business prosperous until his last day. But the mafia’s head family want to exterminate any competition they have, and the Preston Enterprises is their biggest, most dangerous competitor. That’s why they threaten the Preston family’s life. Because basically I’m connected to the Preston legacy, seeing as I, along Danger, Ryder and Jez, am Henry’s adopted child, the mafia is also chasing us. One thing led to another, and we’re at war now.”
It made sense. It all made sense. Even the Echo part made sense. And that’s why I felt lost all of a sudden. What was I doing here, with this sex-god looming over me in order to dominate me into submission, in this big mansion on the north hill? Why did I have to get into this, apparently, war between two mafia families? Why couldn’t I just be left alone?
I knew the answers intellectually. But mentally, I was losing one thread of sanity after another. It was all too much for me to process in mere days. Seeing a murder was one thing. Getting attracted to the murderer was, eventually, inevitable, seeing as Gunner was quite simply too gorgeous to ignore. Being apart from Gran and living here was also understandable. Going back to school with a mean-girl escort was not so much fun, but I still got it. Having this revealing conversation, though, made me feel on the brink losing it entirely.
How could they expect me to just be so understanding and cool with all that had happened in my life in the last three days? How could they think I would be fine knowing all this stuff? Had they not have any heart, or sympathy? Couldn’t they see it was all way too much?
Tears blurred my sight and I put my arm on my eyes so he wouldn’t see them falling. I had no way to stop them, and frankly, right now, I didn’t want to. I breathed shakily as I let the tears out, hiding them from Gunner’s too-knowing eyes, and wished for him to be gone so I could weep alone.
But I still felt his skin mere inches from mine. He was not moving. He was staring at me, waiting for me to break down, and I couldn’t do that in front of him. Showing any weak emotions was not acceptable in this situation, especially in front of the enemy and Gunner, with all of his manly prowess, was my enemy.
I needed him off me. Now.
“Get out,” I said, my voice low in a few octaves than normal, and so quiet I doubted he heard me. “Get out.” I said again, with more demand.
But he didn’t move an inch.
Exhausted and frustrated and furious and tired, I yelled, “GET OUT!”
Yet he stayed right in his place. I removed my arm from my eyes, glared daggers at his unreadable eyes and prepared myself to kick his balls into his chin when his arms wrapped around me, one at my waist and the other at the back of my head, pulling me closer to his body. My head was buried in his chest, he tucked my body underneath him and hugged me... or rather embraced me.
Shocked, I tensed at once, my skin sizzling from his touch, electricity shooting through my veins to my core, but then his lips touched my ear and he whispered, “No,” and as if it was a key word, I melted at once, before I could stop myself from doing so.
My throat locked, my eyes swollen, I just cried silently, wrapped in his arm. I don’t know when, but my arms were grabbing his shirt, my nails almost penetrating the fabric and scratching his skin, and I just let myself break down in this killer’s arms.
I don’t know how long he held me. I have no idea what the time was when I finally calmed down and realized what I was doing. He was caressing my hair, my back, relaxing me to no end. I was clenching him as though he was my anchor, and I didn’t know whether I liked it or not. I was a teenage girl on the brink of real puberty. I should be fine handling myself alone. Yet I let this killer, this almost-stranger, take care of me. Feeding me cookies and cake. Holding me tightly yet softly. Giving me the comfort I longed for.
The song “I’m In Love With a Killer” by Jeffree Star played in my mind, and I hurried to stop it. I was not in love with Gunner. Sure, my feelings toward him were still a bit confusing, but it didn’t mean I loved him. Love is a big word.
God, I should stop thinking too much.
“Are you alright?”
Gunner’s voice, all of a sudden, made me jump a little, bringing me back to reality. I hated to look vulnerable, especially to someone like him who would appreciate unweeping girls. So I hardened my heart, tensed, and gritted out, “Get off me.”
I heard him sigh and then his body was off me, my skin aching for his. Stop it, I thought, irritated at my reaction to him. I sat up, and saw him sitting right next to me, checking me with such a calm face, his sea-eyes glinting with hidden emotions that I could not fathom. “Are you alright?” He asked again.
“I’m fine,” I said in a flat, cold voice, wiping my face from any emotion. “It was a lapse of control. It won’t happen again.”
He arched an eyebrow and skeptically said, “Whatever you say, Rae.”
Deciding that staying in the lounge with him was a bad idea, I stood up and scratched Flanny behind her ear. I picked up my book and then looked at him. “I would appreciate it if you didn’t tell about this to anyone.” I said, and walked to the door, my back to him. When I opened the door, his voice stopped me.
“I wasn’t planning on breaching your privacy any farther, Rae,” he said, voice dry. “And you know, I think that after everything I just told you, you should seriously consider changing that attitude of yours. We’re not the jerks or killers or the mafia you want us to be. Deal with it.”
My nerves still taut from before and without looking back at him, I said, collected as much as I could, “Prove me wrong, and then we’ll talk.”
Then I walked out, leaving him in the lounge, and thinking that he already did, comforting me as he had done a few seconds ago. But he wouldn’t know that, and I wasn’t intending on telling him. I knew that everything he said – all he said – was true. It made too much sense. Danger, Ryder, Henry and even Jezebel hadn’t had a “badness” vibe. They were actually pretty nice – especially Danger, and apparently Gunner. Sure, Jez was a bitch who hated me but even she didn’t feel wrong to me. For example, what girl would stand up to Taryn Torres? It was pretty spectacular.
And Gunner, after this... How could I hate him or anyone else in the Preston mansion? I couldn’t. And I knew that if I came to love them all, I would hate Echo for what her father had done, and what she had probably helped him with.
I had to choose a side: Moore’s or the Preston’s.
This was the question.