“Isy?” I whispered, glancing at Isy and ignoring the death-glares from Taryn, the meaningless flirting of Chase and Jez and Marcus’s worried expression.
“What?” Isobel hissed back, and I mentally sighed. Why did Jez have to be such a bitch?
“I’m sorry for what Jezebel said,” I murmured. “I... it’s just... a lot happened in the last three days.”
Now Isy glanced at me, her green eyes blazing. “What exactly happened?” She asked sharply, and I flinched. How could I tell her anything when I wasn’t supposed to talk about it? And what could I tell her, with Jez sitting right here next to me?
“I can’t tell you everything,” I whispered guiltily. “But I can sum it up for you. I’m living at the Preston mansion, that really big, castle-like structure in the north hill.”
Isy stiffened. “It’s that scary mansion,” she murmured, “and you live there? Why? How? What about your grandma?”
“I wish I could tell you, Isy,” I mumbled, and my throat locked. “You’ll have to trust me about this one.” I begged.
“Is this new girl part of what happened to you?” She asked quietly, her sharp eyes on me.
I nodded mutely.
Isy cursed softly. “What have you gotten yourself into, Rae?” She asked, worried. “I went crazy yesterday when you didn’t come to school. You never miss school. I called your home but nobody answered. I freaked, and had it not been for Marcus, I would’ve lost it.” She lowered her head. “Besides, Echo didn’t come yesterday, either, and now she’s still missing.”
A bad feeling settled in my heart. “Shit,” I muttered, and knew that whatever Gunner and the others wanted from Mr. Moore was connected, somehow, to the whole family. Otherwise Echo wouldn’t be missing.
“You called her home?” I asked pointlessly, because I knew the answer.
“Yes. No one answered.” She sighed heavily, and I wondered what had happened to Mr. Moore’s body. Probably Gunner and his coworker buried the body, like in the movies.
The thought was cold, but as Jez said, it was reality. That thought also reminded me that I had no idea who was Gunner’s coworker. His voice was as low as Gunner’s but flat. Neither Danger nor Ryder had that voice. Maybe another step-sibling I hadn’t yet met?
I seriously hoped not. Four were more than enough.
“I see,” I murmured, and my heart clenched. I wanted to know that Echo was okay. I couldn’t take the mystery about all that happened anymore.
But first things first. “Are we okay?” I asked Isy, sending her a hopeful glance. Please don’t leave me alone in this mess, I silently pleaded.
She hesitated only for a second before she nodded. I breathed in relief.
The rest of lunch went with me chatting lightly with Isy and Marcus, who was now less hostile, while Taryn glared daggers at Jez and me, but particularly Jez, who kept on flirting with Chase.
When lunch ended, Jez and I went to the next class, which was Trig. She grabbed my elbow again until we arrived the class and took our seats.
Jez was quiet for the rest of the day, and by the end of it, we walked together to the parking lot. Everyone watched us as we passed, and I felt too self-conscious for my comfort, but Jez ignored the looks and stared straight ahead. The display of confidence made more than half of the guys literally drool all over her, and the girls to be jealous. Taryn, Harper and Violet were walking right behind us, and they didn’t get that much attention, and from Taryn’s face, I knew she wouldn’t keep quiet about it.
Jez had just made an enemy of my enemy. Did that mean she was my friend? Nope. I don’t think so.
There were a lot of murmurs on our way to the parking lot. “Did you see him?” One of the girls said in a gasp.
“He’s so hawt,” said another girl, fanning herself.
“Jesus Almighty, he’s fiiiine - “
“Good Lord, he’s so sexy!”
Confused, I kept walking next to Jez, whose face blanked. But my internal question was answered when we reached the gate, and saw many girls looking adoringly at a certain black-haired-greenish-blue-eyed guy. Even a few guys couldn’t help but stop and gaze at him.
Every attention Jez and I got was averted now to Gunner, who stood in all of his prime, his sex-god looks shining bright like a sun in the middle of this gray and cold day.
It was amazing how Jez’s face lightened up at once when she saw her step-brother here. I wondered since when she had been in love with him, or at least crushing on him. Instinct told me it was probably more than a few years.
But Jez wasn’t the only one who looked as if Christmas morning arrived earlier. Taryn, who was just behind us, practically jogged toward Gunner, sending Jez and me a gleeful, victorious look, and reached him. Everyone could hear what she said next.
“Hi. I’m Taryn. Taryn Torres,” Taryn said, flashing him a seductive look that made many boys fall to their knees in front of her. Her voice was panting, as if his hotness affected her more than she would ever admit. “I don’t think I saw you around?” She cocked her head in a spiteful act of “innocence”. If there was one thing she was not, it was innocent.
Gunner, who looked as nonchalant as ever, had that knowing glint in his eyes. He wasn’t stupid or naïve. He knew what Taryn wanted, his ego probably fed, but the question was, would he take the obvious invitation? I still didn’t know Gunner well enough to guess his actions.
Not that I wanted to know him well enough anyway. Liar, a voice drawled viciously in my mind.
Maybe, I thought, but it doesn’t mean I should want that.
Gunner looked at Taryn with disrespect that made Jez next to me sigh in relief. I would’ve sighed in relief too, had it not been for the alarm that went off in my head. I really shouldn’t crush on this guy. Not only he was a killer, but if Jez knew, she would kill me herself. “I’m not doing little girls,” Gunner said bluntly. “You’d better continue on your way, Blondie.”
I couldn’t help but smirk a little at that. It was really not Taryn’s day. Tears of shame and humiliation filled her baby-blues and before she could walk away, she got another mental slap that made me almost glow with smugness. Gunner looked up directly at Jez and me and grinned the smallest grin. “Hi, girls,” he said as we reached him. “Ready to go?”
Now every eye was on us. Taryn looked at Jez, Gunner and me, shocked, and after she sent me a glare that would’ve murdered me if glares could’ve done so, she ran away, sobbing.
It was kind of pitiful to see her sob. But she had made me plenty miserable, so now it was payback time, bitch. I still remembered the day back last year when I told everyone I liked Jimmy James, a handsome boy in our Lit class that later had grown up into a gangster asshole. But then he was the Chase Montgomery of junior year – Chase was second place then. Taryn, who also heard my exclamation of my “crush” to Jimmy, waited like a snake for the moment to attack. When I decided to write Jimmy some sort of a love-letter, to follow Echo’s advice, the letter was snatched from my beg by none other than Taryn. She’d opened it at lunch and read it aloud, so Jimmy and Chase and everyone in the cafeteria heard me being humiliated. It was before Taryn realized that to impress Chase she should act “nicer”, so she was openly mean.
Meaningless to say, I was rejected in front of the whole school by Jimmy, who laughed in my face after Taryn finished reading the letter. The rejection still stung.
Since then, Taryn’s feats became even worse. I had a few scars – physically and mentally – to prove her meanness.
Jez and I entered the black SUV that was Gunner’s car, Jez in the front seat and me in the back one. Gunner drove out of the parking lot, and I found myself letting out a breath I didn’t know I was holding in.
“How was your first day, Jez?” Gunner asked, breaking the sudden silence in the car.
“Awesome,” Jez said dryly. “Everyone stared at me, I flirted with a cute guy who’s younger than me and got annoyed by that Blondie who tried to seduce you. Tracey Toller or something.”
“Taryn Torres,” I automatically corrected.
Jez humphed. “Whatever,” she said haughtily. “This girl is a waste of time, really. Such a ho. She actually thinks that she has a chance with that Chase boy. L-a-m-e.” I saw her rolling her eyes through the front mirror. “How can you stand her, O’Reilly?”
I think it was the first time she called me my name – surname, but still - but I didn’t read too much into it. “I don’t,” I said, looking outside the window. “She hates me. Has hated me since she transferred to St. Blacksmith a year ago.”
“Why?” Jez asked, curious all of a sudden.
I tensed. “I have no idea,” I said flatly. “She took one glance at me and decided I was her greatest enemy. Go figure. For some reason all the beautiful girls hate me.” I sent her a pointed look through the mirror.
She humphed again. “Well, you do have an annoying presence,” she said defensively. “Just by looking at you I’m getting angry.”
“Well, sorry for being alive,” I offered in the driest tone ever. “Want me to hang myself? It’d make your work a whole lot easier.” It actually made me wonder for a second. “Why didn’t you kill me? It would’ve solved you a lot of problems.” The words were brutal, but not less true. “Besides, aren’t you killers? The mafia? It’s the kind of things the mafia does – cleaning up inevitable witnesses.”
“We’re not - “ Jez started protesting but Gunner cut her.
“It’s none of your concern, Rae,” Gunner said in that low voice of his. “For now, just be glad that you’re alive.” His sea-like eyes flashed at me warningly through the mirror, and I flushed a little.
But I wasn’t ready to give in. “I think I deserve to know,” I folded my arms. “Was my life ever in danger? Did you contemplate about murdering me? And if you did, then why not? As I said, it would’ve save you a lot of troubles.”
Gunner’s voice was flat when he said, “We are not killers in the sense you might think of it. But again, it’s none of your concern right now. So drop it.”
I knew an order when I heard one, but I was getting angrier and angrier, and his answers weren’t nearly as satisfying as I wanted. “No, don’t tell me to ‘drop it’!” I snapped. “It’s on a need-to-know basis, don’t you think? I deserve to know what you think about doing with me! My life’s on the line here, so don’t expect me to just ‘drop it’!”
“Oh God, you’re so loud,” Jez said irritatedly. “Stop being so melodramatic and shut the fuck up, will you? Gunner said it’s none of your concern, so it really is none of your concern. Just stop this shit, please.”
Now I was furious. “Don’t you tell me that if your life were on the line you would’ve let it go!” I shouted, feeling like I was about to lose it. “I deserve to know!”
Silence followed for a short period, and then Gunner parked the SUV in the parking yard in the foot of the mansion. He turned off the engine and turned to me, his eyes boring into my own. “We will continue this very interesting conversation later,” he said with dangerously deep voice. “But right now, we have some business to attend to. You may do whatever you want as long as its within the house. Am I clear?”
I was sure my fury showed on my face, in my dark brown eyes. My lips a thin line, I forced myself to nod once, and then got out of the car along Jez and Gunner. They escorted me inside the mansion, like I would run away down the hill, and when they were sure I was inside, they left to do whatever.
I was alone. No, not only alone. I was lonely. Lonelier than I’d ever been.
And the sad thing was that I had nothing I could possibly do about it.
I was sitting by myself at the lounge in the third floor. I was reading another book Gran packed for me – a book that centered on the philosophical question – for what reason are we living. It was one of my favorites, really, and it was comforting having this book here.
Flanny sat next to my couch and leaned her furry head on my legs. I asked one of the servants – a lady called Daisy – who took care of Flanny while I was at school. She informed me an animal-lover servant named Vaughn took care of Flanny needs, like feeding and taking her out to walks. I was glad Flanny wasn’t neglected, but also sad that I couldn’t take her for walks myself, or just take care of her.
As I was reading, the door was opened and a servant entered with a trey of goodies, like cookies and a slice of home-baked chocolate cake. The servant put the trey on the table next to me and then walked out, just as quietly as he entered.
I wondered what the heck was it about. Why would a servant just bring me food? Had I done something to deserve it? I don’t think so.
Baffled but not rejecting the idea of eating, I grabbed a cookie. I moaned in pleasure and closed my eyes in pure bliss. It was an amazingly-baked cookie, with such a crispy texture that made me think I reached heaven. Yup. Julian, the chef, was really, really good.
I finished the cookies in minutes, and then dug into the cake. I groaned loudly when I felt the hot chocolate cream melting blissfully into my mouth. My eyes rolled and I sighed in pleasure at the taste.
I was halfway with the cake when a voice said, “I see you like the cake.”
I flushed immediately and didn’t look up as Gunner took the seat next to me on the couch. “It’s good.” I said quietly, feeling foolish.
“Thanks. I made it.”
Stunned, I glanced at him hesitantly, and saw him looking right at me, those amazing eyes penetrating me to my soul, and a small smug smirk on his face.
My flush deepened at his sexiness and at the fact that I’d just finished off a full trey of goodies that Gunner had made for me like some chubby girl. “Why?” I asked, feeling more flabbergasted than I’d ever felt.
He shrugged, leaning back, crossing his hands behind his head, his biceps flexing and therefore more seeable that way. His eyes were still on me, still capturing my eyes. “I just felt like it,” he replied. “Besides, I felt I owed you one, for all that happened in the last few days.”
It was awfully considerate of him. And it was more than a little strange. Why would he want to make me feel good if I was only an inevitable liability? Why would he try to apologize, kind of? He was a killer. He should’ve considered me a burden, just like Jez did.
“I see the conflict and confusion in your eyes, Rae,” he grinned a little. “You don’t want to think of me as something other than a monster, and it’s understandable.” He straightened up. “Now it’s time I’ll answer your questions from before.”
I shook myself out of the shock and folded my arms. “Why didn’t you just answered me then?”
“Because you were too furious to listen,” he replied, and I realized he was right. Whatever he would’ve told me, I would’ve thought it a lie. Now that I was fed and calm, we could talk.
My lips twitched. “You gave me food so I would be more willing to listen.” I said in a bit of disbelief.
For the first time, Gunner grinned full-time, and the effect was panty-dropping-worthy. It was a hot and sexy grin that made my motors go mad. My heartbeat quickened, my flush deepened even farther, if that was possible, and my knees went weak. “Not more, just willing.” He said in that rumbling voice of his, “and now, it’s time to get back to business.” His face became serious, not a hint of that sexy grin lingered on his face.
I took a deep breath, straightened myself too, and petted Flanny for comfort. “Tell me.” I said quietly, my eyes never leaving his.
He nodded, and opened his mouth.