I looked at the paper in my hands, and couldn’t organize my thoughts and feelings at all.
This paper, this letter... Isobel received it today from none other than Echo Moore.
I’m sorry for disappearing on you so suddenly, but some issues came up. Familial issues. I’m kind of in shock as I write you this, honestly. Because... my father is missing. Mom is scared for his life, and so do Emanie, Emmalee and me. We’re all so mad and sad and afraid of everything.
I wish I could tell you why we had to leave, why we think our father is dead. I wish I could tell you and Rae all about it. But I can’t, at least not now, and not without a permission. So... I’m sorry to leave you both in the dark.
Please show Rae this letter and tell her that I miss her, too.
Love you both and hoping you’re doing well,
I looked up at Isobel, trying to come up with something to say, but couldn’t. Because this letter... I didn’t want to jump to conclusions, but it kind of proved what Gunner told me the other day about Echo and her dead father, Calvin.
I just couldn’t grasp the realization that Echo was part of the real... mafia. I couldn’t.... just couldn’t. Isy, though, didn’t seem as distraught as I felt. She seemed as though she found the letter sad yet completely unsuspicious. Maybe because she wasn’t involved in all of this shit like me. Isy’s family was working in the fashion industry, therefore they couldn’t be involved in such things. And Isy’s older sister, Glenys, was a world-known model, so they couldn’t even think about getting their hands dirty with murder and schemes, because if a word got out about it, the Devereaux legacy would be destroyed.
“I know,” Isy said, like she really did know what was on my mind. “She won’t come back.”
I lowered my eyes, almost forgetting Jez, who sat right next to me in this class, and listened carefully to what happened between Isy and me.
“Who would’ve thought that the little Moore bitch would get all scaredy-cat because of what I did,” Taryn was suddenly next to us, grinning evilly. Her minions, Violet and Harper, were smirking behind her. “Did she run away from justified humiliation?” She mocked a pout. “That’s so pathetic.”
“It wasn’t justified,” I told her dryly, not lowering myself to her level. “None of what you’re doing is justified, Torres. Get over yourself already.”
I swear Taryn’s baby-blues flashed red for a moment from anger. “Don’t tell me what to do, you whore!” She snapped at me.
“I didn’t tell you what to do,” I said, adopting Gunner’s nonchalance. “I just advised you wisely.”
Taryn scowled, and it wasn’t a pretty look on her. “You and your slutty friends can go to hell!” She barked and turned and left. Not that I cared, really. If I’d let Taryn get to me all the time, I wouldn’t be sane.
“Good dealing with her,” Jez said quietly, and I would’ve thought it to be a compliment hadn’t I known better.
“Thanks,” I said nonetheless.
“God, she’s such a bitch,” Isy shook her head. “I can’t believe she says all these things. Does she really believe that? Is she that stupid?”
“Unfortunately, she isn’t,” I told her. “She just know what buttons to push. You only need to know that and you can be immune to the stuff that comes out of her cherry-red mouth.” I frowned then, fixating my eyes on the letter in Isy’s hands. “I hope Echo’s okay, wherever she is.”
Isy nodded ruefully “I hope so, too.”
We were both quiet then, didn’t quiet know what to say to each other. We were honestly awkward together, and I guessed it was inevitable. Too many things had happened and changed that staying as we’d been would be a wishful thinking.
The day passed without farther eventful situations and by the end of it, Danger awaited at the gate. The drive back home was just as silent and uneventful as this day and when we arrived the mansion, Jez dragged me to the gym for knives lesson. Gunner, Ryder and Danger joined us, wanting to watch my humiliation.
“You’re holding the knife wrong, O’Reilly,” Jez said, irritated with my performance. “And you’re too tense. I know holding a knife is scary at first, but loosen up a bit.”
Actually, I wasn’t scary because of the knife – that, I didn’t have a problem with. It was because of the three pairs of eyes on me. Ryder looked like an excited puppy that waited for some action to start; Danger was smirking wickedly like it was this afternoon’s best show; and Gunner... Gunner sat there with folded arms, his sex-god looks standing out like always, his face bored and his eyes twinkling with amusement.
Great. Now I felt like a clown.
“Focus!” Jez snapped. “If you don’t you’re gonna cut yourself!”
Pursing my lips in annoyance, I did the set of motions she showed me earlier. I was kinda clumsy, but at least the knife didn’t cut me. Jez nodded her satisfaction, like a proud mentor or something, and pointed out some things I had to work on. As if.
An hour later, Maddox joined us too. He didn’t say a word, just watched as I worked through the sets, then mocked-sparring with Jez. She was really good at it, and I was sweating and breathing heavily by the end of the session.
“Good,” Danger stood up. “Now it’s my turn. Guns lesson.” He said.
I smirked inwardly. Guns I was good with. But they wouldn’t know that.
We all walked to the shooting room. There were many aims, guns hung on the walls and headphones were given in the entrance. Jez, who joined now the watchers, scowled when she put the headphones on her ears. The others did the same and stood behind Danger and me, as Danger taught me about the gun’s built and how to use it.
“You only need to know your aim, redling,” he said, “then it’ll come easily for you. You’ll see.”
I nodded, like I didn’t heard this before. But oh I knew it all. And I was going to prove it.
“Now, concentrate on the aim,” Danger pointed at the target board a few feet from me. “And try to shoot into its range. It doesn’t have to be the middle and I don’t expect you to succeed on the first shot. But try it.”
I nodded, even frowned as if to show I was really serious about it, and then raised my hands with the gun. I wondered if I should show off, shooting with one hand only, but then voted against it. Being good at it was enough. For now.
Then, I shot. The bullet pierced the exact center of the target board. I smirked, seeing everyone looking at me with shock. Everyone except Gunner, who just grinned the smallest grin, as though he knew I was good at it to begin with.
And maybe he did?
“What the hell?” Danger looked at me with astonished cattish-green eyes.
I shrugged, trying to show indifference, but couldn’t stop the smirk from growing on my lips. “Beginner’s luck?” I suggested, raising an eyebrow.
He didn’t say a thing for a few moments, and I decided to show off a little more. Turning back to the targets, I shot three times, moving my arm with each shot, and scored the bull’s eye of every target board there was in the shooting room.
Shocked silence filled the room, and without so much verbal meaning, Danger dismissed me.
When we all were out of the room and back in the gym, Maddox said, “The dinner we should’ve gone to last night was postponed for tonight. So pretty up and we’ll meet at the entrance hall at eight. You,” he looked at me, “did really good at the shooting lesson, so I’ll spare you this one. But continue the martial-arts and knives. I want you to excel in it.”
I said nothing.
“Dismissed.” Maddox said and went off with Ryder and Danger. Jez shot a hopeful look to Gunner, who ignored her completely and planted his eyes on me. With a hateful glare in my direction and embarrassed expression, Jez walked angrily out of the room, leaving me with Mr. Annoying Evil Sex-God.
“Let’s walk” he said, breaking the sudden, tensed silence between us.
Freezing at his words, I just looked at him. He looked right back at me, making me aware of him again, attracted to him like nothing else in this world. It took me a few moments to reply. “Sure.” I said, my voice strained.
We walked silently out of the gym and he led us toward the entrance door. I stopped before the doors and looked at him quizzically. “Aren’t I supposed to stay within the house?”
He opened the door. “I make an exception.” was all he said and we stepped outside. He walked me through the parking yard and toward the backyard. When we arrived, I gasped in awe. It was so colorful, with many flowers, tress, bushes. I felt my heart lighten a bit at the sight.
Gunner brought us to a quiet romantic swinging bench made of wood. Gunner sat down, and motioned for me to sit next to him. I hesitated a second, then decided, what the hell. It was a beautiful day for late October, and this hot man wanted someone like me to pass his time with, and this yard was beautiful. So I stuffed my fears and sat next to him in a courageous move.
We were silent for a while, watching the garden. It was kind of peaceful in its way, and with Gunner’s long legs, intuitively he rocked the bench, making me close my eyes and just... relax.
Then, when I thought I was about to fall asleep, he said, “You’re okay, you know.”
I opened my eyes at once and averted them to him. He planted his on the clear sky above, hands behind his head. He looked so sexy, so goddamn handsome, with the sun’s rays lighting his face, making him look like a real Adonis. I was so distracted by his looks that it took me a moment to process what he said. “Okay? What does that mean?”
“It means that you’re interesting. I like it.” he replied in this nonchalant way that made me feel strange most of the time.
But right now, it only made my heart skip a beat. “You like the fact that I’m interesting?” I asked, a little incredulous. “That’s, I must say, surprising.”
“Not at all,” he disagreed calmly. “It means you aren’t as dull and shallow as most girls your age. You actually have knowledge and intelligence. I didn’t expect that. I hate being caught off-guard.” he glanced at me then, locking my eyes with his. His eyes looked bluer in this afternoon light, and I started feeling that eventually I’d need a heart surgery.
He was making me feel and do things so abnormal, so alien to everything I’d ever known ever since I’d first seen him in the promenade.
“So I caught you off-guard,” I stated, somewhat feeling a little smug. I found myself grinning a little. “I guess I should be flattered, because you always seem under control, like you know everything ahead of everyone.”
“You aren’t wrong,” he responded dryly, his eyes still on mine. “I do always know.”
I rolled my eyes. “You’re not a Clairvoyant,” I notified him, “and prophecies or visions of the future do not exist.”
Now it was his turn to roll his eyes – a little display of emotion other than dryness and flatness. He was starting to open-up to me, probably. “I didn’t claim myself to be a seer or something as stupid as that,” he pointed out, “I just said I can predict things ninety-nine percents of the time right.”
“Which makes you either a freak or delusional.”
He narrowed his eyes. “Say whatever you want, Rae.”
Now I grinned fully. “I think I’ll do that.”
“For some reason, I’m not intimidated,” he said back, now smirking a little at me.
I pouted and humphed. “You’ll eat your words. You’ll see.”
He straightened, looking at me with a full-on grin that made my insides go all mushy. “I think you have just challenged me, Rae Marie O’Reilly. No one dares to challenge me.” Despite the fact he was clearly laughing at me, I could see some spark of interest, and even wonder, in his beautiful sea-eyes.
It made me almost melt, but I held myself. “Then I guess the honor of the first to ever challenge you, Gunner Preston, would be mine.”
His smirk grew. “At least get my name right, redling,” he mocked, using Danger’s ridiculous nickname.
I arched an eyebrow and folded my arms. “As far as I know, you’re Gunner, unless you’re actually Ryder in disguise.”
“My surname, Rae,” he said in a patient voice, like he was a teacher. “It’s not Preston. None of our surnames is Preston, except Maddox who’s Henry’s biological son.”
That was news. “Cool,” I said, “so what is your surname, Gunner?”
He smirked smugly, leaning in toward me. “Only if you promise me not to tell to anyone else.”
Suddenly I realized he was really close. I didn’t know how I could let myself being in this situation, but I was pressed with my back to the edge of the bench, while he was leaning toward me, one hand next to me on the back of the bench, and the other trapping me in between his body and the bench. He was so close, and even though we didn’t touch, the electricity that constituted the wild unrequited-attraction I felt for him was making shivers go through my body.
Then he leaned so close, I could smell his distinct scent. Expensive cologne, some manly scent, and citrus. His lips were suddenly at my ear, his chest all I could see. “Rae,” he whispered so sensually I just knew he was teasing me, playing with me. He probably figured out my reaction to me and he used it for his own delight and entertainment.
Why did I have to be attracted to him, of all people?
“You’re not listening to me,” he said, and for the first time since I’d met him, he actually chuckled.
I blushed and didn’t say a thing. I couldn’t work out any words, anything coherent at least. I was that much of an idiot.
“I – I do.” I mumbled out somehow, feeling childish and stupid.
“Fine then,” he said, his voice low and rumbling. “I will only say this once, so listen carefully.”
“My name is Gunner Murray,” he said, his voice all but caressing me.
Then, just like that, when I was all hot and bothered and embarrassed and ridiculed, he leaned back and stood up. “It’s time to get ready for dinner,” he said all practically with a bored face, like nothing had just happened now. “I’ll escort you to your room.”
And without any option to calm my unsteady feelings, I’d let him do just that, and the rest of the walk went in an awkward silence.