Henry was a man that just by looking at him you could hear The Godfather’s music playing in the background of your mind and see a picture of Al Pacino. This Henry guy was as tall as Gunner, with gray hair, wearing business suit, his eyes as gray as his hair and assessing every little thing in the room, from the chandelier to me, when his eyes widened a bit and he seemed to be seeing something he didn’t expect.
“I knew I didn’t like redheads for a reason.” were his first words as he checked me, his tone lighter than I thought it would be. He seemed like the kind to be serious and scary, but apparently he wasn’t. “You are, I suppose, Rae?” He asked as if he didn’t know.
“Rae Marie O’Reilly,” said the shaved-haired guy. “Her grandmother gave us all the details we need to know about her.”
“O’Reilly?” Henry cocked his head, baffled. “As in, O’Reilly Bakery?”
I had no idea criminals were customers of our bakery, and I was sure as hell that I would’ve remembered someone like that Henry guy if he entered the bakery. “Yes.” I said flatly, for some reason not afraid of him. Just like I wasn’t afraid from Gunner, or Jez, or the other two guys. They all didn’t look like criminals – except the shaved-haired, but even he managed to look like a human. Especially the bad-boy and Jez, who both looked innocent enough.
“So, the granddaughter of lovely Maureen O’Reilly is going to live with us,” Henry sighed like it was inevitable for me to be there, and took a seat on the couch in front of me. “Now tell me, redhead, what did you see?” He looked at me expectantly, and I tensed immediately. Gunner, who took a seat right next to me, tensed as well, and so did the other three. They all stared at me, waiting for an answer or in Gunner’s case – waiting for me to break down again.
But once was enough for me. Now... now I was completely fine. Not as disoriented. I knew what had happened, accepted the inevitable, and gathered myself. After all, I couldn’t mourn about Mr. Moore forever. Even if it was the worst way possible for someone to die. “I saw Gunner and another guy kicking Mr. Moore,” I said in a flat voice. The numbness I felt should’ve concerned me, but I knew it to be a part of accepting the harsh reality. “Mr. Moore was bleeding. They asked him a question he didn’t want to give the answer to, and Gunner shot him and killed him.” It sounded like I was talking about the cool air of October instead of a murder, but it was the only way I could handle it.
“So you saw everything,” Henry concluded, gazing at me thoughtfully. “That was pretty awful for you, I guess. Nothing I can do about it, though, except interrogating you.” He straightened himself in his seat. “What have you done at the Moore’s?”
I clenched my hands into fists. “I came over to visit Echo, my friend,” I said quietly, “and I found the door open. At first I thought it was a burglary and went to stop it, but then I realized it was an entirely different thing.”
“That’s unfortunate,” Henry sighed, and actually seemed sincere. “Again, nothing I can do about it. We can’t just let you go, O’Reilly. I wish we could, but fact is, you saw something you shouldn’t have and we can’t let a witness out freely. I don’t want anyone to talk about me and my family’s business around the city.”
Promising them I would never talk about it in my life would not get me out of this place, so I didn’t even try. Henry had already made up his mind. I was there to stay, everything else to be damned. So instead of arguing with him about this moot point, I decided to ask about my fate. “What are you going to do with me?”
He arched an eyebrow. “Not gonna tell us you wouldn’t run around and tell everyone? You give up that fast?” He apparently wasn’t satisfied with my agreement of his decision.
“Is there a point to argue with you?” I asked, looking him in the eye. “It’s not like I have a chance to convince you to change your mind. I know stubbornness when I hear one.”
A sudden grin appeared on his face. “A smart one,” he said, “I like it. Maybe you redheads aren’t so bad.”
“You can say that again,” bad-boy agreed with a grin of his own.
“Anyhow, you’re right. Arguing with me is pointless.” he grinned again. “For now, you’re staying here.”
“What about school?” I asked him, not letting this matter go.
Henry’s eyes sparked with scientific amusement, like I was some kind of lab-rat to be examined thorough and thorough. I didn’t like it at all. “We’ll see. As for now, good night, O’Reilly.” He stood up, and then seemed to remember something. “How rude of me, I didn’t even introduce myself,” he smiled politely. “I’m Henry Preston, head or the Preston family and the one who owns this beautiful mansion. Those kids here are my adopted sons and daughter. I see you already know Gunner, so Gunner, please do me a favor and escort our guest to her room and then come to my office. You too, Ryder,” he looked at bad-boy, whose name was Ryder, apparently.
Dismissed, I stood up and Gunner led the way out of the room and to the elevator. We didn’t talk at all all the way to the fifth floor and to my assigned room. He departed with a polite “Good night” and I closed the room’s door after him. On the canopy bed was the pjs I dressed before and next to the closet was my suitcase, which was brought here by someone, probably a maid – I wouldn’t be surprised if they had at least two. Flanny was sleeping on her dog bed, and I smiled softly at her, feeling at least a bit at home with her here.
I changed into one of my favorite pjs – a black, oversized tee that I trimmed its collar so it wouldn’t strangle me. It reached my knees with how big it was, and it made me feel even more at home. Gran had brought me this shirt, telling me it was my father’s – her son – and I slept with it most of the time until it was too smelly and needed to be washed.
I got into the bed, covered myself with the duvet, and sighed in relief at the heat of it. This night couldn’t be more exhausting; so many things happened, so many changes, and in simply one night, my life as I’d known it was gone.
Now... now I was a witness to the murder of Mr. Moore. My grandmother’s custody was taken by a mafia family, or more particularly, Henry Preston. No one here knew what to do with me, and I had no idea what tomorrow would bring.
So instead of wondering and giving myself a concussion, I let the darkness of the night take me under, and after a few moments I fell asleep.
I woke up late in the morning, I assumed, as I saw the sunlight coming through the window. It took me a moment to remember where I was and when I did, my throat locked and tears threatened to fall. But I held them all in, and forced myself to calm down.
God, had it all really happened? I had a hard time believing it was true. But I clearly wasn’t home. Instead I was in a five-stars-worthy bedroom in the richest mansion in the city. It’s like my life were upgraded from my past situation, where I lived in a small apartment with my grandmother, and now I was living with four good-looking men and woman, and an older man with an odd personality.
But where I loved my Granny, I disliked everyone here. From Henry and his oddness to Gunner, the sex-god whom I had seen committing murder. Well, if that’s not fucked up, I don’t know what else was.
I forced myself to get out of bed and the moment I did so, Flanny attacked me with licks and soft barking, as though she was afraid of the others in the house so she kept her barking low. I smiled at her and petted her roughly, the way she loved it. If she were a cat, she would’ve purred by now.
After petting her for a few more minutes, I went to the balcony window and opened it. The sun was covered by many clouds, but some of its rays managed getting out of the mass of clouds. The view of the city like a blanket in front of me, late in the morning, made me smile briefly. I liked views like that, and in this time of the morning... it was marvelous. I wondered how it looked at sunrise or sunset. Probably it was way more prettier than everything else I’d ever seen.
Now, if only someone would’ve brought me a cup of warm cocoa drink it would be perfect.
My stomach grumbled and I sighed. Every morning I was super-hungry, and this morning, even after everything I’d gone through last night, was no different. So I put my favorite pair of black sweatpants, applied a bra under my sleeping shirt, and wore my favorite black slippers. My hair was all frizzly and uncontrollable and I didn’t bother trying to brush it – it always ended up badly so I just pulled it into a loose ponytail. The total look was very homey and unkempt. But I was one of those girls who really didn’t care about the way they dressed – a shopping hater, remember? - so it didn’t bother me the slightest.
I tried to open the door, and then figured it was locked. Should’ve known it would be. Before I could come out with a plan of how to call any of my new housemates, the lock turned and the door opened. Jez, the girl from last night, stood there, wearing a pair of skinny jeans and a blouse, looking ready to go partying or something. She was as beautiful this morning as she had been last night, with her dark hair pulled into a neat, high ponytail and sky-blue eyes looking smoky because of the make up she applied. Her face looked disgusted when her eyes landed on my state and it seemed like she was doing her best to restrain herself from saying something none too friendly.
“Can I help you?” I prompted when she kept quiet for too long, her eyes on my slippers.
My voice seemed to snap her out of her haze of disgust. “Breakfast’s ready,” she said and before I could say anything she turned and started going toward the elevator. I closed my bedroom’s door and rushed after her, arriving just before the elevator came.
The dining room was in the second floor. When we entered it, I fell like in some Jane Austen’s novel. The tall ceiling was covered with artistic drawings, chandeliers everywhere, the marbled floor glimmering from cleanness, the table filled with fresh food. My stomach almost roared at the sight of bacon and omelet but I forced myself to follow Jez.
Gunner was already there, sitting with bad-boy, Ryder, and the shaved-hair guy, all looking fresh and awake, wearing casual clothes that made each look perfectly good. But Gunner aced them all with simply his looks, with his tousled, messy jet-black hair and those sea-eyes.
They all raised their eyes to Jez and me as we entered the room. “You sit there,” Jez drawled, pointing at the seat next to shaved-hair. Jez took the available seat on the other side of Gunner, who seemed uncaring whether she sat there or not. I pitied her, really, because I knew how unrequited love could suck. I’d crushed on Chase “Never Available” Montgomery, after all.
Thinking about Chase made me wonder about Isobel and Echo. Did Isobel worry about me? Was Echo okay? Did they know what had happened to me?
My eyes flicked to Gunner, who was eating nonchalantly while Jez talked his ear off. Ryder and shaved-hair talked among themselves about some stuff, and I was left out. But I didn’t care, because befriending those people wasn’t on my agenda. They were killers. Gunner killed my friend’s father. I saw him do it, even if he seemed innocent enough now, looking hotter than the sun.
My appetite, however I felt, consumed me out of all the dark thoughts, and I grabbed some bacon, omelet, bread and butter, and poured myself orange-juice, seeing as my beloved cocoa drink was out of commission. I saw Jez looking at me with wide eyes, and so did Ryder. Shaved-hair tested my body and then the food in my plate, like he was evaluating where all the food would go to in my slim, short body, and Gunner smirked slightly in a way that made me flush and blurt, “What? I’m hungry.” it was a bad sign; I was too nervous, sitting here with a mafia-family members. Especially Gunner.
Jez humphed and shaved-hair cupped his chin with his hand, as if in deep thoughts. “Cute,” he muttered.
My face were probably flaming as red as my hair, but I forced a nonchalant expression and ate my breakfast, ignoring their assessing stares. Those stares reminded me of Henry, and how he said they were all his adopted children. It made me wonder how they all got themselves involved with someone like Henry to begin with, because Henry didn’t seem to me like the kind to just adopt kids out of kindness. What were his ulterior motives? Did those guys knew about them?
I dismissed the thousands of questions in my mind. I didn’t need to know anything about these guys more than I’d already known.
“Hey, Danger,” Ryder said to shaved-hair. “Have you heard any word from Mad?”
I blinked, sure I was hearing wrong. “Did you just call him ‘Danger’?” I asked, dumbfounded. He could not be possibly called Danger. It was ludicrous.
Ryder looked at me with a confused look, like that of a puppy who didn’t understand what its master wanted from it. “What do you mean?” he asked. “That’s his name.”
My eyes widened and I looked at shaved-hair. “Are you serious?” I asked with disbelief. “You were really born with that name? Did your parents hate you or something?”
Shaved-hair or, apparently, Danger looked at me dangerously (no pan intended). “Mind your own business, wench,” he warned, his cattish-green eyes blazing a little. “My name’s Danger. Neither it’s funny nor weird, understood?” his tone left no room to argue, and his expression was scary.
But I wasn’t very tolerant to this kind of an attitude. So I scowled and retorted accusingly, “Don’t you try to intimidate me, fuckwit.”
His eyes widened at my tone and cuss word, and for a second I felt truly scared that he would get angry and try to strangle me or something, seeing as all the others in the table looked at me with shock (not Gunner, though - he just didn’t seem to care) and I’d already started chastising myself for cussing him, but then Danger laughed so hard, his face pinked a bit. “Jesus,” he said as he wiped laughter tears from his eyes, “you’re a sassy one, aren’t you, little ginger?” his amusement was so unexpected I just sat there, eyes widening with astonishment mingled with disbelief.
“That was my thought exactly,” Gunner dryly commented.
Ryder grinned at me. “No one dares calling Danger names,” he said with an appreciative wink. “There’s more than meets the eye to you, redhead.”
I got out of my shocked state and glared at him. “I have a name, you know.”
“Oh, of course we know,” Jez said irritatedly and looked at me with accusing blue eyes. “We just prefer no to use it, skunk.”
The amusement in the table died down at once, and tension replaced it. I had no idea what I’d done to make this Jez girl hate me so much, but I guessed it was like Taryn’s hatred to me. Maybe I had a look that made mean-girls just dislike me. Was it my hair? My dark eyes? My skin tone? I wished I knew.
“Jez,” Gunner warned in a low voice, still eating. Jez glanced at him and flushed.
“What?” She asked defensively. “She is a skunk! She is a threat to you, Gunner!”
“She is sitting right here,” I muttered and then glanced at Gunner. “Why am I a threat to you?”
Gunner sighed, suddenly looking exhausted. “Couldn’t keep your mouth shut, could you, Jezebel,” he said and then looked at me with such nonchalance, I didn’t know how to take it. “It is none of your concern, Rae, so drop it for the time being.”
He avoided talking about it, and I had no will to arise the tension. So instead I focused on what I needed to know. “Will I be able to go to school?” I asked, looking at my plate. “I need my education, after all.”
Danger snorted. “I’m sure you do, redling,” he drawled.
“It’s under discussion right now,” Ryder said helpfully. “Henry’s talking about it with Mad.”
“He probably thinks it’s good for Mad’s learning,” Danger rolled his eyes.
“I think it’s good for Mad to practice how to handle complications like this,” Jez said. “If he wants to take over his father’s, he needs to know what to do when there’s a burden.” She death-glared at me.
“Is Mad your brother?” I wondered aloud. “Why does he have a weird name, too?”
“In a sense,” Danger replied. “The four of us are adopted, but he is biologically Henry’s son. And Mad is short for Maddox.”
“That’s so weird,” I felt the need to utter out.
“Well, it’s none of your business, bitch,” Jez bit out, and now there was tension again.
I saw Gunner opening his mouth, probably to scold Jez again, but before he said a word I looked at her and asked, “What is your fucking problem with me?”
“My problem is that you exist!” Apparently, she was really riled up now. Good job, Rae.
“Well, it’s not my fault!” I snapped, sick of that mean-girl attitude. “If you’ve got a problem with my existence, then go and complain about it to my parents!”
“Your parents are probably siblings,” she snarled. “Because no other reason can explain your sick mind!”
I couldn’t believe she said that. Neither did, apparently, Ryder, Danger and Gunner. Gunner looked at Jez with obvious disgust. “Stop that, Jezebel,” he said, a distinct warning in his deep voice. “Or I’ll get mad.”
Jez may have been furious, but she really cared about what Gunner thought about her, and it appeared to be stronger than yelling at me. So she took a deep breath and looked away. I could see her ego’s wound reflecting in her eyes and also... guilt. She felt guilty about involving my parents? That’s funny.
“FYI, my parents are dead,” I said flatly, “and no, they were certainly not siblings. If you have any logical reason for hating me, you’re more than welcomed to tell me. Otherwise, your hatred is noted, but invalid.” I stood up, not wanting to stay here any longer. Besides, I’d already finished my breakfast. “If that’s all, I would like to go back to my room.”
Gunner stood up, and came to stand next to me. “Before that, we’re going to Henry’s office,” he said. “Come.”
And, because I had no choice, I left the dining room with Gunner, leaving guilty, ego-wounded Jezebel, amused Danger and puppy-ly baffled Ryder behind.