I was stunned. Really, truly stunned. I was at loss of words for a few moments and just stared blankly at Jez. But then her words sank and I asked with a rough voice, “With both of them?”
“Not at the same time,” she hurried to explain. “But it matters little. She told each she loved him while being officially Mad’s girlfriend. She’s a nasty piece of work.” She scowled.
“She sounds like it,” I muttered, finding it hard to grasp what she’d just told me. This Willow girl sounded like the type of girls I truly hated; those who thought that because they have the required power, they can mess with men’s heads. It reminded me too much of the stories Gran had used to tell me about my dead mother, and how she messed my dead father up entirely.
Eventually, Jez, Ryder and I fell into a tensed silent, each lost in his or her own thoughts. The picnic wrapped up and we all returned to the mansion.
The next day, when I woke up to training, I was told Maddox had gone home already. I didn’t really find it sad or something like that because really, I barely knew him. Besides, he was a weirdo. I still hadn’t forgotten what’d happened when we’d first met.
And I certainly did not want to remind any of them of that Willow bitch. I was nothing like her – hell, I didn’t have many guys chasing me anyway. I could never be like her.
The only guy I wanted didn’t want me back and had been a real jerk to let me understand it.
At the training, I was all business. Gunner and I sparred and I got better at kicking and punching. But Gunner was faster and more trained, not to mention more muscular, and hitting him was equal to hitting a brick wall.
My attraction got in the way of the sparring, though. That was the only thing that prevented me from getting better. But I didn’t want to embarrass myself anymore in front of Gunner. He looked down on me as it was.
By the end of the training, I was ready to go asleep again. But it was only the beginning of the day, and I still had a mission to accomplish: seducing Chase Montgomery. I could only hope some of my charms would work.
I seriously needed the distraction. More than ever so.
Danger drove me silently to school. He hadn’t talked much ever since the picnic and I had a good idea why. So I decided to ignore the awkwardness and relay the things as they were. “Jez and Ryder told me about Willow.” I said, my voice breaking the silence in Danger’s silver Honda.
His hands clenched the wheel and his knuckled turned white. “She did?” He asked, green eyes focused on the road.
“Yes,” I pressed on, my tone getting sarcastic as the moments passed. “And I feel the need to assure you I’m nothing like her.”
“Clearly,” he responded dryly. “She’s not as obnoxious as you obviously are.”
“No,” I agreed, “but she’s a total bitch. And for all my faults, I don’t consider myself one.”
“But you’re acting bitchy now just by rubbing her name in my face,” his voice rose, and so did the tenseness in the car.
“Oh, stop being a baby!” I snapped. “Just because of what she’s done you’re being childish just by hearing her fucking name? What the hell is wrong with you?!”
“Shut the fuck up, Rae!” He snapped too, and I think it was the first time he called me my name and not “redling”. “You know nothing about this shit! You don’t know anything!”
“What I was told is enough!” I yelled. “And all I wanted to say was that I’m not like Willow! I’m nothing like her! I will never cheat on my boyfriend with anyone and certainly won’t make false promises!”
Danger now really lived up to his namesake. The look in his eyes was dangerous, and his voice was warning. “You may consider to stop talking about her and this subject in total. I don’t want to fight you, Rae, because I consider you a friend. But if you keep on pushing the subject, I will not be so friendly anymore.”
There was an unhidden threat in his tone that I disapproved of, but I knew when to shut up, so I did exactly that – mostly because I didn’t want to fight with him, too. He, and probably Jez now, were the only people in the Preston Household whom I didn’t find strange or annoying or asshole-y.
Finally we arrived to school, and I joined Jez into the building. We avoided talking about Willow and the picnic last night, and despite the slight tension from what’d happened, we actually got along pretty well.
At lunch, we were joined by Chase, which started to feel like a routine. I also said so to him when he seated himself with us.
“You’re right,” he laughed. “But what can I do? Hanging out with you is fun.”
I forced a chuckle. “I’m sure it is,” I flashed my eyes to him flirtatiously. God, I was hoping I didn’t make fun of myself or something by trying to flirt with him. “But hey, whatever works. At least we snatched us a Quarterback.” I winked.
Chase looked at me like he couldn’t figure me out but smiled anyway. “It goes both ways, you know,” he smirked, “I stole myself a redhead and a new-girl.”
“That’s still my title?” Jez wondered aloud. “I thought it’d already passed from ‘new-girl’ to ‘hot-girl’.”
“Oh, get over yourself,” I told her fondly with a roll of my eyes. “Besides, why do I get ‘redhead’? It’s not very sexy.” I mocked a pout.
“You may want to consider that one,” Chase grinned slyly. “As a sophomore, I had a lot of time to searching the internet for ‘sexy redheads’ and you cannot believe what I found - “
“That’s entering the TMI department,” I informed him, cutting him mid-sentence. “I don’t want to hear any more about your porn escapades.”
“Hey,” he said, offended. “I don’t use porn to get off - “
“Anymore,” Jez cut him just like I did and we both exchanged knowing, laughing glances. It was really fun to mess with Chase.
But Chase took it all good-heartedly and laughed. “Oh, c’mon guys, I’m not that terrible.”
“Oh, so the college bimbo you brought to Taryn’s party last month was not a porn star,” I said, grinning triumphantly as his face fell, looking slightly shocked.
“You were there?” He asked and a sudden look of puzzlement and unplaced fear crossed his face.
Now it was my turn to be puzzled. “Does it matter if I was?” I asked.” It’s not like we knew each other back then. And I went home early.”
The relief on his face was obvious but then he did something odd – his face closed, his expression became inscrutable. “That’s great then,” he said in a flat voice and then stood up. “I need to go to... practice. See you guys later.” He was gone before Jez or I could say another word.
Jez looked at me with the same confusion. “What was that all about?” She asked me.
I pondered whether to tell her or not about Taryn’s party. It’s not like something abnormal had happened back there... except that I’d seen Gunner entering the Torres house, looking fierce and hot as ever. It’d been before I met him when he murdered Calvin Moore, and before of Echo’s disappearance with her family.
Maybe... there was a connection to Gunner being at the party and him a few days later killing Mr. Moore. And Chase acted so weird when I said what I said about Taryn’s party...
There couldn’t be a connection, though. Chase wasn’t part of the mafia or something stupid like that, nor was he part of the Preston Household. I’d seen his family coming to cheer him in the football games I’d gone to with Echo and Isy back in the day, when things were normal. His family looked as normal as they came...
But Echo’s family looked just as normal, too.
“Hey,” Jez’s soft voice snapped me out of my fearsome trail of thoughts and I looked at her. For the first time ever since I’d met her, she looked worried about me. Her sky-blue eyes were searching my face, and she frowned in worry. “Are you okay?” She asked, “you look kinda... strange.”
I took a deep breath. I couldn’t share my thoughts with her or anyone else until I had proofs or info. Right now, I was just speculating, but I planned on digging deeper.
Because I needed to know. I was involved in this now.
I think Jez felt sorry for me for being so upset – or rather, lost in thoughts – for the rest of the day, and that was the reason she’d let me visit the O’Reilly Bakery when I asked her if I could. She made a call to Henry and told him not to send anyone to pick me up because she would drive me back home. Henry agreed and it was settled.
We didn’t talk much on our way to the bakery, and when she parked next to it, she said, “I’ll wait here. If you’re already there, can you buy me some doughnuts?”
“Sure,” I said and she gave me some money. I then walked to the bakery, leaving Jez in her expensive white BMW and entered. Irie Grace, my ex-coworker, was working with another girl I didn’t know. She raised her almond-shaped gray eyes to me and looked surprised.
“Rae,” she said.
“Irie,” I smiled slightly. “What’s up?”
She surprised me when she walked toward me and gave me a hug. “I’m so glad to see you!” She said in her good-natured way. “When Mrs. O’Reilly said you won’t be back to work...”
“Don’t worry,” I now smiled truly from the heart. “I’m fine, really. It just that many things happened and keep on happening, and I don’t really have time for work.” It was a white lie, but she wouldn’t know that.
“If you say so,” she smiled at me, and it struck me how pretty she was. Not Jez-or-Taryn’s level of prettiness, but pretty nonetheless. With her black pixie-cut hair and those mesmerizing cloudy-gray eyes, she was overly cute. Her short and slim built was similar to mine, only she was slightly taller than me and with more curves, while I had none.
I talked to her a little to hear what was going on in her life. She told me she’d just broken up with her boyfriend, but that it was inevitable. I supported her decision and felt like it was old days again. But the feeling dissipated when Jez entered the bakery, an alarmed look on her face.
I tensed at once. “What happened?” I asked her, feeling an alarm inside of me too.
She looked from me to Irie and to the other worker. “I need you to take those two to the mansion,” she said, voice strained. “Use my BMW. I called reinforcement.” She pulled out a gun then and I knew it was serious.
I knew better than to ask what was going on. That could wait for later. Instead I turned to Irie, whose wide eyes were on Jez’s gun, and grabbed her shoulders. “Come with me,” I ordered. “I’ll explain everything later. You, too,” I turned to the other girl.
Irie, unfortunately, was very slow at processing unexpected situations. “I...” she started saying but Jez yelled just then, “GO!”
“Come on,” I grabbed her wrist and motioned the other girl to come. She, luckily, did as I said without questioning it too much. We got out of the bakery and entered the white BMW, Irie in the seat next to me and the other girl in the backseat. I turned on the engine, and hoped to God I remembered how to drive after all this time I was prevented this luxury.
Fortunately, I was a good, dedicated driver and remembered how to do this. I drove down the road and saw a black SUV coming from the other way. Gunner’s car. So he was reinforcement. My heart clenched, but I knew Jez was safe with him. Gunner was invincible, after all. Or at least that’s what I thought of him.
Anyway, I needed to get out of there, no matter the reason.
“What’s going on?” Irie asked in panic and I couldn’t blame her.
“I want in, too,” said the other girl.
“Later,” I gritted my teeth and hurried the car up. Fortunately, the traffic was light and I managed to get to the road leading to the mansion.
That was when we all heard the BOOM.
Irie shrieked in terror while the other girl just looked really scared. My throat dried and I feared for what must’ve happened. The blow couldn’t be coming from the bakery... right?
I arrived the mansion’s garden-lot and parked the car hastily. I came out of it and saw smoke coming from the neighborhood we’d just come from. Where the O’Reilly Bakery was.
“Oh my God,” the girl gasped. “Oh my fucking God!” She started freaking out.
“Elizette!” Irie put her hands on the girl’s – Elizette’s – shoulders. “You have to calm down!”
“T-T-The bakery!” Elizette stuttered, looking horrified, “I-I-It b-blew!”
“We don’t know it for sure,” I said, my voice mechanically calm. Inside of me, a storm was going on. Were Gunner and Jez alright? Did the bakery really blow up? What about Gran? It was her work place! And why would anyone want to blow up the bakery at first place?
Elizette and Irie were still trying to calm each other when the mansion’s doors opened and Henry and Ryder came out, accompanied by Rose, Henry’s secretary, and Daisy, a servant I knew. Henry took one glance at us, than at the smoke coming from the city, and cursed. Ryder came over to me, worry in his puppy-like gold eyes. “What happened, Rae?” He asked, concern unhidden.
“I have no idea,” I said quietly. “Jez told me to take those two and come here,” I nodded toward the girls, who were now sobbing. “They worked in the bakery, and now... now it seems like it blew up.” It then occurred to me that Danger wasn’t here. “Where is Danger?”
“He went with Gunner to the bakery,” Ryder cursed. “Dammit.”
“Why would anyone want to blow up the bakery?” Irie suddenly asked, looking at Ryder, pleading for answers. It made two of us, or three if I counted Elizette’s prying ears.
“We don’t know for sure it’s the bakery,” Ryder replied, wiping sweat from his forehead. “But if it does, I have no idea.”
Irie looked at me with tears-filled eyes. “What the hell’s going on?” She whispered.
“Kids,” Henry popped up, looking at us. “You may want to come in.” He looked at Irie, and then at Elizette. “Who’re you, darlings?” He asked, curiosity filling his eyes.
“Irie,” Irie said, hesitantly. “Irie Grace.”
Elizette looked even more reluctant to say her name. And when she did, Ryder, Henry and I froze.