We arrived the school’s parking lot faster than ever. We all got out of the car and I held on tightly to the gun I was given, feeling safer with it – and with Gunner by my side too, of course. Jez had a knife in her belt and a gun too, and Danger held a small pistol that I couldn’t help but think was more lethal than anything else we held. Gunner too held a quiet destructive gun.
Yeah, we were a group of badasses.
Henry and Maddox met us there, also gunned-up, and then we all went inside the dark school. The quad was on the other side, close to the football field, and right there, we arrived like the Avengers or something, to see the most fearsome scene I’d ever seen.
Echo had a gun pointed at Taryn, who was being held by two giants; Marcus and Isobel were seated on one of the bench, hands around each other, with three other giants poking their heads with M16; Arabella was lying motionless on the grass with blood pouring of her, and Willow sat next to her, face in her hands, body shaking as she wept, and two men pointing guns at her too.
They all snapped heads toward us the moment we entered the crime scene. In a blink, my people were spread and taking on the armed giants. Jez stayed by my side, both of us going over to where Echo was standing. She looked wild, nothing like the Echo I knew, and she seemed fiercer than ever.
Her gun at once was pointed from Taryn to us, just when Danger and Ryder started fighting the two giants that had held her. “Stay right where you are, Rae, Preston bitch,” she looked at Jez and me with eyes not quiet sane. “And don’t you dare move.”
When Echo’s men were down a few minutes later, we all circled Echo, and she still had a gun pointing at Jez and me... or rather at me. “You can’t kill me, Echo,” I told her, feeling somewhat calm. “You were my friend, after all.”
Echo snarled at me. “I will kill you if that’s what needed for me to become fully a hit-woman!”
“You had enough time killing Isobel,” I pointed out. “You also had enough time to shoot me already. But you don’t. Why?” I narrowed my eyes. “It seems like you had no problem killing Chance Montgomery, but killing us, your old friends, is too much?”
“Don’t talk to me like you know me, bitch!” she yelled at me, hands shaking. She was not quiet herself anymore – if I really knew what she really was, anyway. “Don’t act like you can read me because you’re wro - “
“So prove it,” I cut her, crossing my hands and avoiding the warning glances that were shot to me by the others. “Shoot me.”
Charged silence fell on us as Echo looked at me, incredulous, along with the horrified looks of the others. But ignored them all, my focus solely on Echo.
She kept on staring at me with wide, coppery eyes, while her hands kept on shaking. She was sweating now, and I arched an eyebrow. “What takes you so long, Echo?” I asked, feeling calmer than I would’ve thought myself to be. “Afraid to murder your friend?”
“You’re no friend of mine!” She hissed venomously.
“Jeez, is this the kind of friends you have, spawn?” I heard Arabella saying in a weak voice. Apparently, she wasn’t dead, just injured, but mentally perfectly fine, or at least how fine someone like Arabella could be. “No wonder I dumped you in the old hag’s care...”
For some reason, it made me chuckle, despite the whole situation. Arabella may be a bitch, but her snarkiness was actually a mirror of my own. Which was funny, because I thought my snarky self to be hilarious.
“Don’t you dare laugh!” Echo sniped, looking like a lost girl who didn’t know what she was doing.
I toughened up again. “You can still try to redeem yourself from this path of life, Echo,” I said, feeling sad suddenly. “You can try and move one without your father, to get away from the mafia. You don’t have to kill anymore.”
“I already killed,” she hissed at me. “I was born for this. Emanie and Emmalee could never take Father’s place. Only I can, and I will.”
Before I could say anything else an unfamiliar voice said, “That’s enough, I think, Echo dear.”
Everyone turned around to see a man in Henry’s age walking closer to us with two black bodyguards heavily armed right behind him. From the corner of my eye I could see Henry tensing. “Rufus.” he greeted with coldness.
Rufus, apparently, grinned at Henry. “Henry Preston, as I live and breathe,” he went over to him. “I see you’ve encountered a... problem.” the mystery man’s eyes, which were icy-blue, glanced at Echo for a moment and then returned to Henry. “Did my dear Echo go overboard a little?”
“A little?” Henry arched an eyebrow while Maddox and Gunner turned to stand right behind Henry, like his own bodyguards.
“Oh, Henry,” Rufus laughed “You know how’re kids nowadays. They don’t really know how to wield a weapon,” he looked at Echo fully now. “Put the gun down, dear.”
Echo looked dumbstruck. “No!” she objected hotly. “I can’t, not no - “
“I said,” Rufus said calmly but his voice full of authority, “put the gun down, Echo.”
Echo gulped and did as the weird man said. Rufus then turned his eyes to me, the one Echo pointed at. “Oh, I see now,” he took in my eyes, “one of Arabella’s children. And you are, redhead?”
I stood firm, trying to to show this stranger how terrified I was from him. “Rae O’Reilly.” I said reluctantly.
Rufus’s eyes widened. “Oh, the O’Reilly offspring!” he said delightedly and turned to Arabella, who was now attended by Willow who tried to stop her bleeding from the stomach, where she was stabbed, apparently. “For once your plan was failed, didn’t it, Bella dear? You actually met one of your kids.”
“This spawn means nothing to me, Turner,” Arabella snarled at him. “What are the likes of you doing here anyway?”
Rufus Turner grinned and it was a little cold. “Well, I wouldn’t have come here if I had a choice,” he said loftily. “But, unfortunately, I take care of those who’re mine, like this little one,” he pointed at Echo, whose eyes were on the floor and looked so pale and thin like she was the walking dead or something.
“She almost killed me!” Arabella protested.
“Well, that’s what the mafia does, Bella sweetie,” Rufus beamed at her like he was enjoying all this. “And, being the head of the state’s branch of the mafia, I have responsibility.”
“I hate you!” Arabella spat.
“Well, I’m not so fond of you either, Bella hon, but you don’t hear me tell you it so crudely,” Rufus really acted like this whole situation was a game. “And now, I have a misguided pupil to put back on track.” he held up his hand for Echo. “Come here, wench,” he said in a sudden bored voice. “Tonight’s not the time to fight with the Prestons and... others.” he turned his gaze to Taryn Torres, who was now standing next to Ryder. “Aren’t you a Torres?”
“I-I-I-I am,” she spluttered and had it been another situation I would’ve laughed at her.
“Ah, I love the Torres household,” Rufus said dreamily for a second before he turned to Henry again. “Well, I guess this is it. I’m going to take my staff here and leave you all here to do whatever you want.”
Henry’s jaw was a hard line by now. “I’m surprised, Turner,” he said with a harsh tone. “You’ve got a chance to get rid of me and my family yet you choose to end this thing without bloodshed.”
Incredulous silence fell on us, and I realized Henry was sure of it was some scheme of Rufus, but he couldn’t know for sure. Why would the man who’d made an enemy out of Henry and his family leave when he got the chance to do what he wanted? Suspicious indeed.
Rufus smiled inscrutably. “That’s for me to know, Preston,” he said, “just be glad I’m not finishing you today.”
Henry’s gray eyes turned hard. “So you’re just leaving us? Doing nothing?”
Rufus snorted a laugh. “I can be a nice man if I want to,” he grinned almost friendlily. “Today, luckily for you, I woke up without the need to kill anyone. So be grateful and let me go with my people.”
Before any of us could say a thing or do something, there was a sound of shooting and everyone turned to see an agitated and disoriented Chase Montgomery entering the quad with a gun pointed right to where Echo stood. “I won’t let you get away with killing my brother, you bitch,” he spat.
“What are you doing here?!” I asked him, frantic and scared for his safety.
“Shut the fuck up, Rae!” he glared at me only briefly. “It’s between me and this bitch. I need to kill her. I have to!”
And we were about to get out alive with this whole thing, but now Chase had to come and complicate everything too. Frustrated and annoyed, I yelled at him, “You idiot! You already avenged your brother’s fucking murderer! Just leave it!”
“Oh God,” I heard Arabella murmurs. “Another brat. Because we all needed another idiotic lovesick fool to come here, right?”
“Shut up, Arabella,” Danger snapped at her.
“A Montgomery boy,” Rufus said thoughtfully. “Well, anyone that has a problem with one of my own has a problem with me,” he grinned excitedly. “Do you have problem with Echo dear?”
“Who the fuck are you?!” Chase growled at him.
“Rufus Alfonso Turner,” Rufus said smugly, like he won the Lotto or something. “Head of the state’s mafia branch, and the one who’d kill you if you lay one finger on Echo dear.”
His tone was so reasonable and frighteningly glad that it took Chase a few moments to realize what he was saying. “You won’t kill me, bastard!” he shouted. “I’m going to kill that bitch and nothing would stop me!”
Oh, for fuck’s sake, it was getting ridiculous. “For God’s sake Chase, please,” I walked over to him and grabbed his hand. “Let this go. You killed the main villain already. Don’t do this.”
“Don’t touch me!” he shoved me away and I winced. “You don’t know what it is like to know your brother’s fucking murderer is still alive!”
“But you killed him already!” I snapped at him. “Let this go!”
“Oh, don’t listen to little O’Reilly here,” Rufus said with obvious amusement. “I would like for you to have a go at Echo or me. It’s been so long since someone was so courageous to do so.”
At that moment I saw Henry’s eyes narrowing and I knew that this was Rufus’s scheme. He knew someone would snap, that someone would be out for Echo’s or his blood. He waited just for this moment to have a go at us.
And from Chase’s face, he wasn’t seeing it. Well, shit.
“Chase, please - “ I said and that was when three things happened at once. Chase pulled the trigger, the bullet shooting directly into Echo’s direction, but she managed to move millisecond before, probably sensing he would shoot, and the bullet went flying away from us, not hurting anyone. But then Echo, already crazed, pulled the trigger too, and the bullet the was aimed for Chase missed and instead hit the person next to him.
At first, I didn’t get it. I didn’t feel anything. Only by the shocked intakes of the people I lowered my head to my to my chest and saw blood not so far from where the heart was place, but not in the hear itself.
Then, blinding pain was all I knew. I screamed and thrashed and fell on the floor, feeling like the life was leaking away from me. The pain suffocated me, bringing tears to my eyes and I heard nothing but my own shouts and pained breaths.
Someone held my head, I felt, and I could barely hear people yelling orders. I could also hear a few shoots and yells but all that I could think about was how my chest fucking burned and how the pain was the worst I’d ever known. I heard a familiar voice trying to calm me down but nothing penetrated my pained mind at the moment. Only pain did.
I started losing consciousness, the pain still going strong. I hazily felt like someone lifted me and sat me on some block. Then I had the feeling of driving but I didn’t hear anything, didn’t really feel anything except the pain. Through all of this I could certainly feel the presence of someone – Gunner? - but I couldn’t comprehend it, couldn’t really think of it.
But at one point, the pain became unbearable and my body shut down, making me swim in a field of darkness.
I woke up to see a white ceiling. Looking to my right I saw a monitor that checked my heartbeats and next to it stood an infusion stand with blood bag that was connected to my body through a needle in my hand. I moved my head slowly to my left and saw a man of tousled black hair lying on my bed. I couldn’t help but smile. Gunner, apparently, fell asleep, my left hand clasped in his like an anchor he couldn’t let go of.
“Gunner...” I mumbled and felt a pain in my chest as I spoke. I looked down and saw that beneath my hospital shirt I had a bandage. Yeah, being shot wasn’t an easy thing.
I looked at Gunner. He rose from half-lying on the bed and looked at me with exhausted eyes. “Are you alright?” he asked, concern in his voice.
I nodded. “It hurts,” I mumbled, wincing a bit at the pain.
“You were unconscious for two days now,” he said, looking at me with such relief that it made me feel all warm inside. “I was so worried. Everyone was worried.”
Just as he said that, my hospital room’s door opened and a doctor entered with none other than Arabella Andela-Moore. I stiffened. “What are you doing here?” I murmured, not talking to snappily so I wouldn’t hurt myself.
She scowled, her dark brown eyes on my face. “I’m a patient in this damn hospital too, spawn,” she sniped. “I was shot too, after all.”
“She meant, what are you doing in her room,” Gunner talked in my stead, probably understanding I was hurting. “Which I would like to know as well.”
“Well, she’s my spawn, isn’t she?” she regarded me with disgust. “Besides, she wouldn’t have gotten a private room if it wasn’t for the fact that I and doc are old friends.” she flashed a seductive grin to the male doctor, who grinned flirtatiously right back. Ew. I so didn’t need to see my mother flirting. I mean yeah, she isn’t really a mother to me but still, the thought was enough to make me gag.
“I’m Doctor Jones,” said the doctor. “How are you feeling, Rae?”
“My chest hurt,” I mumbled.
He then checked the infusion and took a look at my chest, where I’d been shot. “You’ll be fine in a week,” he finally said. “You’re a very lucky girl, Rae. The bullet didn’t make as much an internal damage as it would’ve done had it penetrated the place around your hard.”
“That’s good,” Gunner kissed my temple. “That’s really good.”
“Yeah,” doc said, grinning at me. “Well, there’re a few people outside who wants to see you.”
The doctor left the room and Danger, Jez, Henry and Gran entered. They all started talking at once, Jez hugged me carefully, Danger ruffled my hair, henry smiled fondly and Gran wiped a tear. They all talked and told me what had happened after what happened at the school quad.
After I’d been shot, Chase and Gunner went ballistic. Gunner had been at my side and actually joined forces with Chase who had shot anyone who tried to get closer to me – which meant Rufus Turner’s people. Apparently all hell broke lose and we lost Echo. Except Echo, though, no one else died, only got hurt a little – or in Arabella’s and my cases, critically hurt. Everyone else was really just trying to decide what to do next and move on.
After they finished speaking, there was a request to see me alone, and everyone left the room – Gunner included – and I found myself facing Isobel and Marcus. “I’m so sorry for everything,” Isobel said first thing. “I’m sorry for being such a bitch to you and about that day at the toilet... I regretted it every day.”
“It’s okay,” I told her, smiling slightly. “You were right about a lot of the things, you know. So it’s not your fault.”
She hugged me as tightly as she could then, without causing me pain, and after her Marcus put a hand on my shoulder and said he would never misjudge me again.
Then... there was Chase. He sat on my bedside, looking so grim and pale that I knew he was just as worried about me as Gunner. “I should’ve been hit by the bullet,” he said with a visible wince. “I should’ve been lying here. Not you, Rae. Never you.”
“It’s not your fault Echo’s shot missed - “
“But it is my fault!” he put his hand in his hands. “I should’ve just let it all go like you wanted me to. But I fucking didn’t.”
“Chase - “
“No, Rae,” he looked at me with teary eyes, and my own became a little bleary. “I shouldn’t have pulled the trigger. I shouldn’t have provoked Echo. I was blinded by the realization I could avenge another of my brother’s murderers. I’m an idiot.” tears fell down his face
“You’re not an idiot, Chase,” I was starting to weep too. “You’re a good man. I know you are. None of it is your fault. None.”
But Chase wasn’t convinced. I wondered if ever would. Instead, he told me about the fact he was going to a good college far away from the city and so it would be the last time I’d see him. I asked from him to kiss him goodbye, and he let me do so. Afterwards, he walked out of the door and as he said, I didn’t see him again.
A week later, I was finally released from the hospital. Gunner was by my side the whole time, protecting me from everything and everyone. Willow and Arabella left the city too, and moved to another one in the other side of the state. Henry told me that the thing with Rufus Turner wasn’t over as long as the Preston Enterprises was going strong – which it always would, he assured me. But I wasn’t worried now. No, I was actually exhilarated by it all.
Gran and I moved in with the Prestons. I lived in Gunner’s room, while Gran had her own suit. Henry was still making Maddox practice, seeing as he would become the heir of the Preston Enterprises one day when Henry couldn’t work anymore, and meanwhile, Henry told him, he should take care of his pregnant wife.
On my eighteenth birthday I didn’t want a big party. Instead, Gunner took me to a romantic getaway, where we had sex like two wild animals and enjoyed so much it was almost unbearable. When we returned, I found presents from everyone and felt happier than I had ever been.
Isy and I started being friends again. I even managed to get Jez and her to get along. Chase had left the school for the scholarship in that college of his. Apparently, he was smart enough to skip the rest of senior year and enter some genius-program for young football players or something. I wished him good luck and happy life, really, even though it hurt to know I wouldn’t ever see him again.
Taryn Torres had changed after what had happened. She became much nicer and more quiet. She wasn’t the mean-girl anymore, and one of her minions, Harper, took her place, being a really dumb mean-girl, if you asked me.
By the end of the senior year, Danger proposed to Jez, and she of course said yes but on one term: that they should wait until she was twenty-five. After all, she didn’t want to get married at twenty.
Ryder and Irie were also together. Irie moved in with us and was part of the gang, too. I was amused to find that she was now going through the training I had back in the year.
Gunner helped me moving on in my personal life, too. I contacted Elizette Moore and her twin brother, Daniel, and met them at some café, with Gunner accompanying me. I told them everything about me being their older sister, actually, and now I was trying to make some relationship with them. It was hard – Daniel didn’t trust me enough, and Elizette seemed really shy about the whole thing – but Gunner comforted me by saying things would get better eventually.
Then there was my father, Brian O’Reilly. With the help of Gran, I gathered the courage to go and visit him in jail. Gunner went with Gran and me, of course, and we all visited Brian. It was something I needed to do to just get this burden off my heart.
The visit wasn’t pretty. Brian had lost his sanity while staying in jail – and falling for the wrong person – and didn’t acknowledge me as his daughter. He didn’t need to; all I wanted was to see how he looked like. Red hair like mine and Gran’s (before her hair got all silvery), bright blue eyes and a few freckles. It was all I needed to see to get my own redemption.
And now, I could start my life officially. With Gunner and everyone else by my side, I was finally ready to look ahead, not timid anymore, and wait for the future to come.