You need to come home now. It's urgent. I'll be waiting for you.
An eye-rolling text from Grant that Nova almost pushed aside. Almost. She knew the gist anyway. The same thing would happen; Grant would ask about the money, they would get into a fight and one of them would leave. She would have loved to avoid all of that, but as always, her feelings got the better of her.
Her feelings ought to have given her a smirk warning of what she might come home to. She was in fact, not well prepared for the outcome of that text from Grant.
It wasn't a dream. It wasn't a game. Her brother, Grant was on his knees, in her living room, where he should be sitting on her couch. His gaze was almost glazed, the bruises stark on his pale face. It was swollen and bloody like he had been in some terrifying accident that he managed to escape from.
The room was silent and tense as she took a shallow breath in, her eyes locked on her brother, who was staring at her with half of his face that wasn't bleeding and swollen.
"Now that you've gotten your one minute moment of silence to take all this in, shall we get to business?" he asked, his drawl rolling out of his mouth and crashing in waves against Nova's ears.
She was sitting on the couch, where she had been forcibly kept there as she breathed in heavily, Ghost's remarks breaking up the deafening beating in her ears, and she could honestly say, at that moment, she had no idea what was going on and what she would do. But she was sure about one thing; Ghost had it out for her and for what reason, she had no idea. It was one thing to force her to help him, but it was another to beat her brother to a pulp and still gaze at her like he was doing her a favor.
When Grant groaned and flinched in pain, she was feeling it in her bones. Her face was wet with silent tears, but even though the moisture pooled in her eyes, she could tell that Ghost was looking at her without a shred of regret in his eyes, a sickening grin on his face.
"Do you know that your brother and I share a special relationship?" he taunted. His tone was more serious when he added, "It's really better than the relationship we share, muneca."
What? She glanced at Grant, who averted his gaze from her, and Ghost's taunts turned into a full-blown psychotic laugh, and she blinked back the tears she had in her eyes.
He was on his feet instantly, and Nova's eyes flickered back to him, watching as he approached Grant who was knelt on the ground with two of Ghost's men behind him, as Ghost grabbed his hair and pulled his head back to force him to look up at him. Grant was scared, she realized, because he was quietly watching, not making a sound or moving a muscle, letting Ghost do whatever he wanted with him. It pissed her off.
"Would you like to tell your sister who am I to you?" Ghost asked him, and she could tell by the way he looked back at her that he was grinning like the sadistic bastard he was. "Or should I do it?"
"She already knows," Grant finally croaked out, earning him a nice hair tug from the man standing above him.
I knew? Nova's expression changed and her brows pinched together slightly before her eyes widened as the realization punched her in the gut, and she had to hold back a gasp as she sent Grant a furious and disbelief look.
"He's the one you owe money to?!" she gasped out her question. Ghost's smirk showed a glint of teeth. Her fury felt like it was burning her up from the inside out. If Grant owed money to Ghost, it meant.. "You're part of a gang?" She stared at the other man incredulously. Nova knew he was a criminal, but she had no idea that he was part of a gang, that Ghost was none other than a gangster. Part of people who did illegal things, people who weren't afraid to kill or hurt anybody for their own benefits.
"Surely you didn't think I was an accountant." He paused, bit his lip for a heartbeat like he was trying not to laugh.
"You don't want to know what I think about you." With effort, she broke their eye contact and forced herself to look away from his amused face and over at Grant. To acknowledge him. His expression was that of someone who felt remorse. Even though he had gotten one eye swollen almost shut, his face was still easy to read. He was scared. Uncomfortable. What else was he hiding from her?
"Right now, it's not about what you think. It's about your brother." Another glance, a quick playful slap to Grant's head and a smirk that made her uneasy for all the wrong reasons.
A cold finger slides down her spine. Ghost was all about amusing smiles and playful remarks, but the violence, the brutality underneath it all was very real. He didn't come here to play and he didn't come here to leave empty-handed. He was a man on a mission to get his money back.
"We will give you your money. I already have half," she tried to assure, exasperation creeping into her words. "I can get you the rest, I promise."
"So, that's the only thing you told her, Grant. I was really bummed that you didn't leave all the surprises to me, but you clearly have left out a very good one."
Nova shot her brother with a look as fear slowly crept inside her, running through her veins and weakening her. "What is he talking about?"
"Don't listen to him," Grant slurred from his cracked lips, flinching when Ghost grabbed his jaw with his hand and pressed his fingers into his skin.
"You're a bit late on that one. Your sister quite listens to me, more than you think." Grant tried to turn his face, but Ghost held his lower jaw in a firm grip, then turned to Nova. "What do you know about your sweet brother?"
Grant's teeth were grinding loudly enough for her to hear, and his face was ashen and drawn in a look of pain. He couldn't answer – that much she realized because he was guilty of something else.
"I know he owes you ten grand."
"Do you know why?" Amusement danced in Ghost's eyes, but he managed to keep his face straight. "Your brother works for us. He does a little errand for the big boss, and would you like to know how he owes us ten grand?"
For a moment, she was left to stare at them both in disbelief— and then her eyes flared with fury. Nova could barely hear him anymore over the blood pounding in her ears.
"Nova, I didn't...."
With one motion, Ghost struck downward with his right arm and swung his left elbow with all his might on a level line at her brother's jaw. "Now is not the time for you to speak."
Fear clutched her heart with cold fingers, as she watched her brother spat out blood from his mouth and pain threatened to cripple her again. "Don't hurt him, please."
"Of course, I'm not going to hurt him." Ghost laughed, that dangerous, unhinged sound that hid the sparks of fury simmering just below the surface. "At least, not right now. I'm yet to come to the juicy and parts." Her stomach lurched sickly. "Your brother was sent to deliver a package, but he got a little bit greedy and sold the package to some knuckleheads. Is that the right thing to do, Nova. Do you think he deserves to be punished for that?"
He expected her to agree with him and seal Grant's fate, but Nova wasn't going to let him change the direction of her thoughts. Her brother may not be innocent, but he was still her brother. She had to fight for him, and that included not getting baited by the likes of a criminal.
"I will get you the goddamn money. Just let us go!" The words that she had hoped to issue as a command came out chocked and pleading.
As if he sensed her desperation, a look of pure annoyance crossed his face, visible in the shift of his eyebrows. "You see, it's not just about the money. It's about power and control, it's about the rules, and people like him..." He tugged on Grant's hair. "think they can get away with breaking the rules. We need to set an example of him, so others aren't going to be stupid like him. You get what I'm saying?"
"He won't do it again—"
"Obviously he's not going to do it again." He snorted in amusement, though she heard the note of tension in his voice. "He won't even be breathing in the next five minutes."
"No! I've done everything you asked of me. I saved your life many times, now you're going to let my brother live. Please." Nova kind of felt like she was desperately grasping at straws now, willing him to understand as she clung to the one thing that brought them together, hoping he would find it in his cold and twisted heart to let Grant live. He had to repay her somehow for all that she had done for him.
"How do you think I know you?" Ghost wasn't smiling anymore; his eyes had darkened and his brows drew together, a snarl appearing at the corner of his mouth. "Why do you think I chose you to keep saving my life? Do you think it was a coincidence that I picked you? There's no such thing as coincidence, bitch. Your brother, to give himself more time, gave me the key to your house. He's the reason why you have to deal with me."
She let out a gasp.
"Grant...?" But his gaze was on the ground, his fear partially hidden while Ghost's amusement was less discreet.
"Don't look at him. Look at me." He snapped his fingers in front of her. "He said if we ever needed anything, we come to you. That you're going to help. He didn't think about you, or your safety because it is all about him." He turned his glare on Grant, yanking his head back again.
Her rage had frozen over now. Ghost's revelation made frost snap through her heart. She stared down at her brother's guilty face without blinking. "How could you do that to me?"
Grant was still making that face and she could practically see the wheels turning in his head as he tried to think of something to say that could fix any of this. "Nova, I'm sorr–" And he thought saying sorry was enough for everything to be okay.
"I don't think I gave you the permission to speak, shitface."
Nova had to breathe and closed her eyes, trying to calm the rage in her heart. When her eyes were shut, she saw her parents. She saw them shaking their heads at her with a pleading look, as though asking her to forgive their son. She didn't like that one bit.
When she opened her eyes, Ghost was eagerly staring at her. "It doesn't matter what he did. He's my brother."
He looked her dead in the eye. "Do you even hear yourself? After what he did to you, you still want to save him?" He sounded angry and disgusted. "While you were busy selling your stuff, he was getting drunk and high with his friends, leaving you to worry about his problems. Oh, you think I didn't know that, huh?"
"If you knew that, then you must know that I have the money. Half of it. If I can just—" She stands to get the money, but it took one look, one icy glare from Ghost to make her sit back down.
"I don't need your money, bitch. I'm not desperate for it. It's the other idiots like him who would think to do what he did, and the big boss isn't going to have that, so here as the executioner."
It bounced around her head, first in disbelief, then in shock, and finally, in anger. "You're going to kill him?!" Ghost was saying the penalty for what Grant did in his world was death.
"I ain't killing nobody. Nah, man. You're going to do the deed for me." He slides his gun across the table as he sat back in his chair with a smug, contemplative look on his face, and his arms crossed over his chest like he couldn't wait to see what would happen next.
"Nova?" Grant's voice, pained, ragged and fearful broke her reverie and her eye contact with Ghost. He looked pathetic kneeling there, and all she wanted to do was punch him in the face. She saw a brother who had betrayed her and put her in harm's way. She saw a brother who put himself first before her and never respected her.
They stared at each other for long moments and nobody spoke until she slides the gun back across the table.
"I'm not going to kill my brother." She congratulated herself that her voice sounded somewhat even, somehow working past the knot in the back of her throat and the fear that clung to her.
Ghost nudged the gun back across the table and it sat between them. "Would you rather we put him in a car crusher and give him a painful death?" He raised one angular brow, and for one breathtaking moment, his eyes—Nova felt like she was staring at a black hole. It was like looking at death in the face, and a chill slides down her spine. "Either way, he is still going to die. It's now or never."
"No. I'm not going to do it."
"Step outside." She wasn't sure who he was talking to, but then she saw movements from his men as they silently left the room. Ghost leaned forward, looking eager and dangerous, and even with those emotions on his face, he looked attractive. He pointed out, narrowing his eyes to slits, "Muneca, the only way your brother is leaving here alive is killing what stands in the way of that. Hell, I'm anxious to see what you're going to do."
"Are you insane? I'm not going to kill anyone, you bastard."
A dangerous half-smile pulled at the corner of his mouth. He seemed to be enjoying it a great deal, that dangerously amused sing-song lilt returning to his tone. "Tick, tock. I ain't got all night."
"You can't do this." She took a deep steadying breath, struggling to inflate her lungs past her madly beating heart.
"Sure, I can. It's what us bad men do. We cause you pain, we give you a difficult choice with no other option and you hate us in return."
"I don't want to. Please, you can't make me do this. I'm begging you."
"Baby, desperation ain't a good look on you. You gotta decide what to do." The smirk was still scrawled across his face like he didn't have the smallest concern about how this was going to end up.
Nova stared at the gun and back up at him before she picked it up with shaking hands. Her finger flattened out over the trigger, sliding over the smooth surface, careful not to squeeze it. The longer she held the gun, felt the weight of it, the more her hands shook. Tears burned her eyes and streamed down her cheek, as Ghost watched her with delight, those green eyes shinning with a dare.
She brought up her hand to try and steady the weight of the gun, making her choice, as she aimed and tried to keep it locked on Ghost, tears rolling down her eyes.
"Oh, so that's your choice." He was openly smiling, baring his teeth as he appraised her with a sweep of his eyes. Ghost's eyes didn't so much as blink as she twisted her upper body, raising her arms further so that the gun pointed at his heart. "Do it, or things won't go easy for you both."
She didn't want to do this. She didn't think she had the guts to pull the trigger and kill a person. Nova couldn't even hurt a fly. Her hands were frozen and shaking as she held the gun, catching a glance at Grant. He was telling her to do it, to put a hole in Ghost's heart because that was what he expected her to do to save his life.
"What's the matter, baby? Don't want to save your brother?" Ghost drawled, amused. She scanned his expression..his upward chin, his angular brows, his questioning gaze. He was not scared. She wondered if he was afraid of anything.
For what came next, she didn't blame herself. She was already on edge, so she was bound to be jumpy, and when something pounded against her front door, she reacted and pressed the trigger, and Ghost's animalistic smile never slipped from his face. The gun made a little clicking noise, and nothing else happened, throwing her off guard. It was empty.
She gasped at she had done and quickly dropped the gun.
Bolting upright from the couch, Ghost threw his arms wide in an exaggerated showoff and manically cackled. "I knew it! I knew you got some balls in you, darlin'." He sounded impressed, a shade disbelieving.
"That...that was an empty gun."
"Do you think I would give you a loaded gun? I'm not that stupid, but definitely A for effort."
"Fuck you!" Nova nearly broke into tears of relief and anger.
"Now is not the time." He looked smug when he turned to Grant. "Get out."
"What?" Grant asked stupidly, struck by the change of events.
"I said get out of here before I change my mind about keeping you alive. Your sister and I have a business to discuss. She doesn't need a dick between her legs to know that she is a boss."
"Get out, Grant. You've done enough already. Leave."
Her brother looked a little bit shell-shocked at the dismissal. "You can't ask me..." And he was suddenly shutting up because Ghost was raising his arm, pointing another gun at him and looking like he might actually pull the trigger if he doesn't leave.
She fixed him with a threatening look. "Out," she shouted. At the moment, Nova didn't particularly care if he got hurt or upset. She just wanted him gone.
Grant breathed in sharply, and then he was up and out of the door. At the sound of the door closing behind him, Nova let out a large exhale. Ghost was in front of her in seconds and her heart mostly stopped, his gaze steady and focused.
They just stood there, staring at each other for minutes before Ghost reached forward and traced her jaw with his finger.
"Now, shall we discuss the payment to keep your brother's head?" he said, his voice only slighter louder than a whisper.