Gunner led me out of the dining room to the elevator. He didn’t say a word to me until we were inside. “I’m sorry for what Jez said,” he said and sighed. “Sometimes this girl has no restraint on her mouth.” he looked at me with an unreadable expression that made my toes curl. Apparently, my attraction to him was only muted for a short time. Now it was back in full-power. My heart beat faster than usual, my cheeks were slightly aflush, and I felt like melting.
God, I had it so hard for him. But why it had to be this killer? Why couldn’t it be anyone else? Even Chase would do, although he was unapproachable in any way. But this... it was the worst. This unwanted, unneeded attraction, which was clearly unrequited from my side, needed to be over with. If only I could find someone who attracted me more than Gunner... which I didn’t think was possible. This attraction wasn’t a common thing.
Instead of focusing on those feelings, I responded to his apology. “It’s fine,” I said, “and don’t try to cover for her – if she wanted to apologize, she would’ve done so. Besides, I can take care of myself. For some reasons, gorgeous girls always seem to hate me, and I’ve already got used to it, dealing with my own hater at school.” I folded my arms just as the elevator doors opened.
I walked out and realized I was a step ahead of Gunner. I turned around and saw him watching me with that concentration that made things inside of me just melt on their on occur. He then walked side by side me, and the small distance between us made me feel too unnerved for my own comfort. Even without touching him, I felt as though our hands were touching a little.
I seriously needed to stop feeling those things.
We walked next to each other in a kinda awkward silence. I hated those, but I had no idea what to say, and apparently he wasn’t going to help me here. So I shut it and waited eagerly to get to Henry’s office and get all this shit over with.
Gunner stopped in front of a wooden door and knocked. The door was opened by a curvy woman in her late thirties. Her brown hair was pulled tightly into a bun, her matching brown eyes hidden behind a pair of glasses and she wore pencil-skirt, blouse and heels. She looked very neat and very organized, and reminded me of everything I am not.
“Rose,” Gunner said, “we have an appointment with Henry.”
Rose flushed a little when she looked at Gunner, and I wouldn’t have blamed her – if she was at least close to his age. But she was at least ten years older than him. Didn’t she have a husband or something? “I understand,” she said, sending me a contemplating glance, “come on in.”
We entered a smaller version of the lobby in the first floor. It was a round room with a desk, a small library, couches and one door, probably leading to Henry’s office. I figured the desk was Rose’s, seeing as she was probably Henry’s secretary. “You can sit there,” Rose said, pointing at the couches. “Henry’ll be available shortly.”
Gunner and I took our seats on one of the couches and I tried to sit as far as I could from him. I didn’t want us to touch, because that would ignite unnecessary emotions that I certainly didn’t need now. Gunner wasn’t an idiot, though. He saw that I basically plastered myself to the couch’s end, and the knowing glint in his eyes made me flush in humiliation. But fortunately, he didn’t try to get close to me and maintained his distance.
It was really just me, after all. Nobody like Gunner would be sexually or even romantically aware to someone like me. It’s not that I wasn’t cute, because I believed myself to be so, but I just didn’t have that kind of magnet. My fate was to end up with some fine-enough geeky guy. Not someone like Gunner, Chase or any other hot guy.
We waited in that uncomfortable silence, while Rose did some paper-work in her desk. I saw her sending hopeful glances to Gunner, who ignored them all, and then sighing dreamily. I checked her fingers and saw no ring, which meant she was single, or at least unmarried. Odd for a woman her age. Maybe she hoped Gunner would be the one?
I felt kinda sorry for her. Gunner didn’t seem to be interested in her the least, just like he wasn’t interested in Jezebel. I wondered why, though. Maybe he was gay?
No. He was definitely not gay. I saw him watching Rose’s boobs earlier, when she opened the door. He was just not interested in any girl in this mansion, apparently. Again, I wondered if he was already in a relationship.
Again, it wouldn’t surprise me.
The office door was opened and Henry stood there, wearing casual clothes. “Come,” he said to Gunner and me, and we did as ordered and entered the room. It was a big room, with wooden desk, a big window behind it, library full of books, couches and chairs. Gunner and I sat on the chairs, and Henry sat on his administrative-like chair.
Without any preludes, he said, “Maddox and I have reached to conclusion about your case, O’Reilly,” he said, looking at me. “Maddox is my biological son and is the heir of this family. Therefore I’ve let him help me with your unusual case.”
I nodded as if I cared.
“So it’s going to go like that,” he said, taking a deep breath. “You’ll be allowed to go to school on two conditions.”
Hope filled my heart, but I waited to hear those conditions. They can’t be good. “The first condition is that you’ll have one of my children enroll into school and into your classes.” He grinned then, and it was full of unhidden humor. “I already did the necessary calls, and Jez will join your classes starting tomorrow.”
Both Gunner and I froze. “Jez?” Gunner asked, disbelief in his voice. “Does she know about it?”
Henry’s grin became a bit meaner. “I’ll tell her once I’m done with you. Besides,” he added, before Gunner could say anything, “she’s the only one who can pass as a high-school student. Ryder, Danger and you, Gunner, look too old.”
Gunner closed his mouth, frowning in thought. Henry averted his eyes to me. “The second condition is that Gunner, Ryder or Danger would drive you to school everyday. Jez would drive her own car, because I will not deprive her any further. Understood?”
“I can drive myself,” I said. “I have a driving license, and even a car. I can do that.”
Henry shook his head. “We cannot take a risk that you would decide suddenly to run away, can we? Anyway, that’s how it’s going to happen. You don’t have much options, O’Reilly.”
I took a deep breath and nodded, because really, what else could I have done? But there was another matter. “I also have a job,” I said. “At my grandma’s bakery. I need this money. May I continue working there?”
Henry closed his eyes an sighed. “I’m sorry, O’Reilly. For now, it would be for the best that you wouldn’t work there.”
My hands clenched into fists. “Why?” I demanded.
“Because it’s another risk, and my children don’t have all the time in the world to guard you. It’s enough that I took Jez off her duties to do this.” Henry’s eyes were apologetic but I didn’t buy that act. “So no.”
My knuckles became white from how hard I clenched my hands. “Fine.” I grumbled.
Henry nodded to me, then turned expectantly to Gunner. “Sure,” he agreed dryly.
“Good,” Henry beamed at us with pure smugness. “You may go now. And Gunner, please show O’Reilly’s around. After all, it’s now her home, too.”
Gunner nodded mutely and and we both got out of the office. Gunner said goodbye to Rose, who blushed, and then we were in the hallway, on our way to the first floor.
The first floor included the entrance hall (the lobby), indoor-pool, private gym and an access to the backyard, which Gunner told me he would show me some other time. The second floor had the dining room and ballroom. The third floor had the official offices of Henry, his son Maddox “Mad” Preston, Danger, Gunner, Ryder and even Jez. The fourth floor contained the family’s bedrooms, or rather suits from what I managed to peek in. The fifth floor had the guests’ and prisoners’ bedrooms, which had also included my own. I wasn’t sure if I was a guest or prisoner, but it didn’t really matter.
Gunner then gave me a key to my room, and told me I could hang out at any part of the mansion that I wanted except the yards. Which meant I would have to be behind walls all the time. At least I had the balcony.
Afterwards Gunner left me in my room and went to do whatever a killer did. The whole showing-around thing, he acted business-like, his face indifferent, his voice flat, his posture stiff. We’d walked with at least two feet distance between us, and neither of us said anything other than the mansion-related stuff. For some reason it made my heart twinge a bit.
But I knew it was for the best. He should keep his distance and I should keep mine. Even if I hadn’t seen him killing Mr. Moore, even if I’d have met him in another situation, I would’ve kept my distance. I would’ve watched him from afar, like I did that day at the promenade, or at Taryn’s party. And now that we actually know each other, I should do exactly that.
It would’ve been much more easier had we not lived in the same house. But it’s not like I had any say about that.
Why did I have to be attracted to the wrong guys? At first it was Chase, who’s known for not going out with any girl at school, only girls from other schools or even college-girls. He was the unreachable one, the Quarterback, the hottest guy at school. Like the other girls, I was attracted to him, but unlike the other girls, I knew I had no chance with him.
Then that attraction became nonexistent when I watched Gunner working out at the seashore. Instead of being attracted to the school’s hottest guy, I was attracted to the world’s sexiest, handsomest, hottest guy who, like Chase, wouldn’t have paid any special attention to me had it not been for me catching him in his killing act. But even now that I had his so-called “attention”, it wasn’t the attention I would’ve liked, and shouldn’t have wanted.
Why couldn’t I be attracted to, I don’t know, Cormack Maguire, the school’s smartest guy? Or even to Jason Dickson, the computer-geek who looked really cute with those Harry-Potter-ish glasses of his? Even attraction to Danny Parker the Emo would’ve been welcomed.
But no. My hormones were fixated on ridiculously hot guys that wouldn’t recognize me as love prospect in million years.
I was doomed.
Sighing, I started going through the stuff Gran had put in my suitcase. Many of my favorite clothes, thank God, and a few books I liked. I was disappointed she hadn’t packed my gun... but it was probably for the best. If any of the guys here found out I had a gun in my disposal...
Well, Gran was a smart woman, thank God for that.
I picked my favorite book, the one Gran’s long-dead friend, Geraldine, had written. It was a romance novel that took place in the 19th century. She liked the Brontë sisters’ books and was inspired by them. That book reminded me a lot of Pride & Prejudice, but it had a unique sense to it. Geraldine was a very good author.
I took the book to the balcony and saw someone put there a small loveseat. I smiled a little and sat down. Book in hand, I read next to the prettiest view ever, with cool October wind brushing over me, and troubled mind.
But for once, ever since last night, I found some sort of real peace, reading this book, living the world of another character, with an actual love.
I passed most of the morning – and noon – hours reading this book. Around five, I finished it, and realized the sun started setting. I closed the book and watched, hypnotized, as the sun set in the west.
It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. From Gran’s and my apartment, it was difficult seeing the dusk that good. From here it was just like in the movies.
Just as the last ray of sun disappeared in the horizon, there was a knock on the door. I put my book down on the loveseat and went to the door. I opened it to see Danger standing there. “It’s dinner time,” he said, amusement clear in his eyes.
I raised an eyebrow. “Isn’t it just around five or six?”
“It’s six and a half,” he grinned. “Now get it moving, redling.”
I scowled at the nickname. “Can I take a shower first?”
Danger sighed heavily. “Be quick,” he said, and I closed the door in his face. Fortunately, every room had its own bathroom. Mine included a bathtub, which I intended to use some other time, but right now I settled on a regular shower. When I finished, I braided my wet hair, put on long tights-pants and my favorite green hoodie. After I wore my slippers, I walked outside the room, where Danger still waited.
He looked at me with a slight surprise. “You’re quick,” he commented.
I shrugged. I was always a quick-dresser. “Let’s go,” I said.
Danger nodded and we paved our way to the second floor. We were the first to arrive the dining room, even after my shower and all, and we sat down next to each other – because otherwise it would’ve been awkward – and started loading food.
Danger chuckled when he saw my overloaded plate. “You really are an eater,” he noted.
“Yeah,” I drawled and looked pointedly at his plate. “And I’m not the only one.”
He grinned. “Yup, I like Julian’s food.”
I should’ve known they had a private chef. “He’s really good,” I said, taking a bite from the chicken.
“You can say that again,” Danger groaned in pleasure as he took a bite from his own chicken. “I wonder if there’s another chef who makes such divine food.”
“That’s a bit of exaggeration, don’t you think?” The food sure was good, but it was a bit overrated to call it divine.
“Oh, redling,” he mumbled with full mouth. “When you live here as long as I have, you’ll come to adore Julian’s culinary sense.”
Deciding it was pointless to argue with him, I didn’t respond and we ate in silence. But it didn’t last long, because Danger was apparently interested in talking to the new prisoner. “I heard you’re going to school again with Jez.”
“That’s what Henry said,” I said, “did Jezebel take it hard?”
“Oh yeah,” Danger grinned evilly. “She was yelling and objecting like a little child.” He laughed.
“Aren’t you supposed to support her side and not laugh at her?” I asked.
Danger sent me an amused look with those cattish-green eyes of his. “Anything that annoys Jez is my pleasure,” he replied wickedly.
“Aren’t you brother and sister?” I seriously didn’t get him.
“Doesn’t matter,” he said dismissively. “I always like to see her irritated. It’s so funny.” He grinned knowingly. But despite his joking voice, I saw something in his eyes. Some seriousness. I wondered if that was really how he felt.
Not that it was anything of my business, but I was really curious now about the relationship between Jez and Danger.
He saw me watching him and cocked his head. “Is something wrong, redling?”
I averted my eyes back to my food. “Stop calling me that,” I said instead of answering him.
He smirked. “Why? I like it. It fits you.”
“No, it’s stupid, so stop it.”
“Oh, don’t be like that, redling.”
I ignored him, and meanwhile the other three arrived. Gunner looked freshly showered with wet black hair that shone a little and those greenish-blue eyes. Jez was walking next to him, talking his ears off again, and Ryder watched them with amusement. When he saw Danger and me, he grinned widely, looking boyish in a sense, and took the seat next Danger. Jez and Gunner sat in front of us, and Jez paused her chatting to glare at me.
“I can’t believe you make me go to high school,” she spat, as if high-school was the name of a curse. “It’s your fault!”
There was a collective of groans from the three guys. “C’mon, Jez,” Ryder begged. “Stop being a bitch for at least dinner.”
“No!” she screamed, glaring daggers at me. “It’s all this kid’s fault! Why couldn’t Henry just throw her away?!”
“Lovely,” I muttered. “Blame me, of course, for a murder I didn’t intend to see. You should blame Gunner here for murdering, if you’re so keen on blaming someone.”
Her face reddened with anger, and Gunner didn’t even blink at my statement. He seemed bored, if anything, by this whole scene. “YOU BITCH!” Jez yelled. “YOU WILL RUIN EVERYTHING!”
“Oh, for God’s sake,” I said in frustration, “get a life and leave me alone.”
My tone only seemed to make her furious but before she did something, Gunner said in that deep voice of his, “Jez.” The warning in his voice was obvious, even if he still looked nonchalant.
The room fell silent as Jez’s red face became pinker with humiliation and embarrassment, and the rest of dinner passed with tensed silence.