They were surrounded.
All around, all over, scattered in every direction possible. The air was polluted with gun powder. The gunshots sounded as if they could crack her skull or render her deaf. Bullets flew in every direction like rain, each one ripping into someone or something, and each one ripped through Nova's heart, erasing all her happy memories.
Every blast in the air made her jerk in fear as she took cover behind a car. The sounds were so brutal and reverberated in her ears that she tried to mute by covering them with her hands. She was crouched on the ground, shaking terrifyingly. Her heart was thudding in her chest and everything around her was spinning.
She couldn't breathe, her lungs were crying out for someone to save her. The man across from her, taking cover behind another car went off on his gun, raining more bullets. It just took one second before his shirt was painted red. He was hit in the chest, propelling him backwards as he spayed flat on the ground, dead. Nova clapped a hand over her mouth to stifle her scream.
Twenty minutes ago.
She let herself into the auto yard. The howling wind crawled through missing doors and slid over peeling roofs. The sounds of metal scraping metal, the beep of a truck backing up, and rumbling and reviving of motors from heavy types of equipment hung around.
Nova’s gaze drifted around towards the rows of broken-down vehicles with dirty windows and raised hoods, wires and hoses bleeding out of the engines, the burned and smashed-up cars that were beyond salvage and stacked for scrap. The acrid tasted of smoke from polluted air that she tried not to breathe in so much. The ground was littered with pieces of broken plastic and metal, and loose screws.
A burly figure pushing a wheelbarrow noticed her looking confused. His whistle caught her attention, and she almost ignored him, but then realized that she wanted to be done with the delivery. She hurried up to him as she ignored the rats scrambling through the junk.
"Can I help you, lady?"
She nodded. "Yes, um, I'm looking for Buzz."
He smiled mirthlessly, revealing a mouthful of stained and broken teeth. “Whaa girl like you want with Buzz?"
Nova struggled to understand the words coming out of his mouth. "I have something for him."
She caught the fleeting impression of suspicion on his face. "Well, where is it?"
There was dull pounding in her temples. "It's in my car." When he continued to stare at her like he didn’t believe her, she bit her lip in vexation. "I can't carry it!"
"Oi, Slimey!" A deep male voice startled them both from behind. "If you don't want to stay behind tonight, I'd suggest you get back to work!"
Nova cast an anxious glance behind her. He stood with his feet apart and his hands on his hips. He was tall and scary looking. His hair hung in long greasy strands around his dark stubbled face.
"Can I help you?" he asked with a yell.
She walked over to him carefully. "I'm here to deliver a crate for Buzz. It's in my car, so if you could just get someone to bring it down...." she trailed off.
"Slimey!" The man shouted again, not taking his eyes from her face. "Get Jo and go to the nice lady's car and bring the goods to Buzz."
A ray of hope sprang in her chest. “Thank you." She started to turn to go back to her car when he put a hand on her shoulder.
"Not so fast. You and I gotta go meet the boss."
Nova felt a stab of irritation at the mention of meeting his boss. "What? Why?! I'm only supposed to deliver it. No one said I had to go in anywhere."
"The thing is, lady, we gotta make sure you were sent by Screw. Now, we gonna go in to meet Buzz, and he'd you check you out."
"It's really not necessary—"
But he was already walking away. She had no choice but to follow after him. A man sat on a couch in the garage, surrounded by boxes of cigarettes and packets of white powder. He was holding a bottle of beer that he placed on his right knee, while he smoked and laughed at the tv.
Nova hugged herself as she ignored the other men in the room, who were half working and half paying attention to her.
"Yo, boss, this is the chick that Screw sent."
The man she assumed was Buzz looked away from the tv screen and back at her. The thin white scar that stretched from his temple and across one cheekbone gave him a mean look. He didn’t say anything for a moment, opting to weird her out with his stoic face. Slimey and Jo walked inside holding the crate they dumped in front of Buzz.
"Open up," he ordered them.
Slimey used a crowbar to open the lid, keeping it aside. There was nothing but straws, but when he began to throw those away too, she gaped at what he was holding in his hand. A gun. Ghost sent her to deliver guns.
"Oh, yeah!" The one who was called Jo grabbed another gun from the crate and pointed it at her, then laughed when she glared at him. Nova was still trying to swallow down her bile when she turned to Buzz.
"You have checked it and it's clearly what you're expecting. Can I go now?"
He leered at her. “Not so fast." His voice rasped out sharply, gaze meeting Slimey. “Take it away, Slimey, and someone get this lady something to drink."
Nova tried to hold her ground, unwilling to let him see how terrified she was by the situation. “I don't want anything to drink, thank you." She breathed deeply with frustration. One sharp look from Buzz quieted her down. He pointed at the single chair with his finger, and she didn't hesitate before she sank down into it, playing with her fingers nervously, twisting and tugging. All eyes seemed to be on her now.
"What's your name?"
She angled her head to Buzz, and almost wouldn't say anything until she realized that she wasn't in friendly territory. The man wouldn't hesitate to use one those guns she brought him on her.
"Maria," she lied.
"I thought your name was Nova? Who is lying to me then? You or Screw?" She didn’t even know what to say to that. He released a loud chuckle. "I gotta give it to your boss—no one's gonna suspect an innocent-looking woman to be carrying weapons and drugs. That's one helluva a good business tactic." He leaned forward. "How much do you want to come work for me instead?"
"Nothing. What I'm doing is a temporary job."
"Temporary? What you don't know about V—"
It was like fireworks, the sound that came from outside. Once. Twice. It kept coming. Nova's face was a mask of shock and fear, her eyes and mouth wide. Buzz's mean reacted quickly; shouting and grabbing guns, bolting outside as they released their own shots. Buzz was yelling, and someone grabbed her arm, hoisting her up.
She was pulled toward the backdoor, and the minute the door was opened, two shots rang loud in her ears, and the man holding her arm fall dead to the ground. She screamed. Someone grabbed her from behind again. Buzz had his men in different positions, each with a different weapon. Filled with intense horror, she was pushed to the ground when they walked outside, taking cover behind cars and anything that could protect them against flying bullets.
Taking cover behind a scraped car, Nova decided to push down her fear in order to survive, because there was no one coming to her rescue. She needed to think.
Her car. Her car was sitting at the front of the yard. If she made a run for it, she would be able to get to it. Inhaling a deep breath, she made a run for it, stopping to take cover again. She scanned the gate, but she couldn't see anyone standing guard. It meant no one would shoot her when she walked out.
She ran to the car. Nova could still hear gunshot sounds, and the minute she was inside the car, she started the engine. With trembling hands, she pulled the car onto the road. Putting distance away from the yard was all that mattered. She wasn't going to stop for anything and she sure as hell wasn't taking her foot off the gas no matter what. Her eyes stayed glued on the road as she drove with speed.
She could say she was lucky that no one had stopped her for speeding. The minute she parked the car in front of Ghost's warehouse, she stumbled out of it. Legs shaking and heart beating fast, she ran inside. She wasn't really seeing anything in front of her. All she wanted was to get somewhere safe.
Stumbling into a room, she startled the occupants as they bolted up on their feet. The wave of nausea that hit her so intensely made her lurch forward for the empty vase, sinking to her knees as the contents of her stomach spewed out of her coughing, choking mouth. Her stomach kept on contracting violently and forcing everything up and out.
"Nova?! What the hell happened?"
Someone gathered her hair in a bundle as she dry heaved again, the stench of vomit filling her nostrils. Her mouth tasted foul and disgusting, and every time she remembered the blood she had seen, she vomited again.
"You guys!" A voice came from the doorway. "Buzz's been hit just now."
"Shit!" That came from the person holding her hair.
"Stay with her. I'm going to see what the fuck happened."
"Mario. Tell him she's safe."
Nova leaned back, wiping her mouth. Her throat felt sore. She turned her head toward Screw, who was looking down at her with concern and said, "Water."
"Sit on the couch. I will be right back!" He ran out of the room.
Nova lifted herself up from the ground and walked over to sit on the couch. She laid her head back and closed her eyes. When Screw returned, she snapped them open in fright, but relaxed when she saw him. He guided the glass to her lips and she took a small sip of the cold water.
"Are you okay?"
"I survived." She handed the glass back to him. The full knowledge as to what she had gone through would never settle down on her. She had been in the centre of a shoot out and she had almost died.
"Should I bring you anything?"
It also occurred to her that not only was Screw doing this out of concern, but he sounded a bit guilty. Sure, they were responsible for it, but they didn't orchestrate what happened at the yard.
"I'm fine," she replied carefully, crossing her arms and offered what could only be described as assurance.
He sat next to her. "I wouldn't judge you if you aren't fine. Hell, I would be worried if it didn't shake you. I can't tell you how glad I am that you're safe. I've envisioned you in red, but I definitely didn't mean blood,” came his teasing comment as he tried to lighten up the mood.
Her laughter was hollow as her hand went to her face, touching the wet blood that marred her skin. She stared openly at the blood that now tainted her fingers.
Screw tipped his head to the side. “I hope that isn't your blood."
She blew out a breath. “No. Who do you think they were?"
His gaze fastened on her. “Honestly?” Screw questioned with a lift of his brow. “I don't know. We gotta wait for Mario to come back."
She turned her gaze toward him and felt a sharp pang of anxiety, disbelief gushing through her. “Do you think it's wise to go back to the scene? Someone must have called the cops by now."
"Yeah, but we gotta check if anyone has survived. We need them to talk and tell us who those men belong to.” He set his teeth and tried to remain calm. “We can't blame anyone without a witness."
"And what would you do if you find out?"
"Wreak havoc." There was a bit of silence. “I'm really sorry, Nova." His face was scrunched in anger and remorse.
She sighed. “You couldn't have known. None of you could have." She tried not to dwell on the matter anymore. Her ears were still ringing and the images of the two dead men she had seen flipped through her mind like pages taken straight out of a book.
"But you realize that Ghost's gonna blame himself, right?"
She forced a grin, though it probably came out as more of a grimace. “He should."
Screw smiled coolly in her direction as he straightened up. “Should I bring you something to eat? What's your preference?”
"I can't stomach anything right now. I’m not going home, am I?”
"Not until we know more details. You can relax here or sleep."
"Thank you, Screw."
He flashed her a smile. “It's something I would do for my guys, and you're one of the guys, mama." He patted her on the knee.
She waited and waited for hours, but Ghost never came.
The sad truth was, despite all he’s done to her, she thought he would be here, fussing over what happened. Nova thought he would be the first person to come check up on her, that even Mario, the guy who didn’t like her poked his head in the room and left. Oddly, she understood without him having to say anything.
To see this side of Ghost, the one guy she actually counted on, as foolish as that made her, ended up being the one person that disappointed her. She couldn’t for the life of her figured out why that bothered her so much. She should have realized the extent of his bullshit and his ability to toy with her feelings.
She jerked awake, prepared to shoot out of the couch before someone reached out to draw her into his arms, and at first touch of his hand on her cheek, she jerked again.
“Hey, hey. Shh. You’re safe.” His voice penetrated through the fog of terror that surrounded her before she blinked. There was something in the way Ghost was looking at her, some expression in his hooded eyes that blinked away the traces of sleep that she didn’t remember falling into.
“How long have you been here?” she questioned as she put a little distance away from him. His cool gaze was visible, but there was a flash of something else deep in his eyes that made her pulse leap. One of her brows lifted as she continued, “And you didn’t wake me up? Shit, what time is it? I need to go home.”
She rose to her feet, located her shoes and put them on, having not remembered ever taking them off, but that wasn’t very important right now. The most important thing was getting home. Nova could see, from the window, that it was nighttime. How she could have slept through sunset and for that long puzzled her.
She whirled around at the sound of his voice, and her eyes held a sparkle of question. She guessed he wanted to apologize for what had happened, but she had thought about it for hours. There was nothing to apologize for, and it was important for him to know that.
A faint shadow crossed his dark features. “I don’t—”
She cut him off suddenly. “It isn’t your fault. I just need to get home, okay? We will....we will talk soon.” She rushed to get away from him.
“For fuck sake, Nova, stop!” Ghost’s face congealed with fury, and he took a threatening step forward. “What happened today isn’t going to happen again. Ever. I can promise you that.”
She shifted, suddenly feeling as if she had just survived from a fall and let her breath out in a rush, and only then became aware of how nervous she was and the remnant of her fear still lingered. “So, you found out who those men were?”
He looked troubled for a second, muttering, “You don’t have to worry about them or anything—”
For the second time, she cut him off. “Who were they?”
“Vipers,” he growled, not pleased by her persistence. “They’ve been trying to shut us down for months, and—”
“How many of your allies are dead?”
“Eight,” he responded tightly, and in a cool moment, Ghost tried to appear calm as he fought the urge to control his anger. “But Buzz is alive. He escaped. He told me he tried to get his men to take you away safely...” He stopped. “Nova, I can assure you that it won’t happen again.”
She frowned. “What do you mean?”
“I’m putting you off.”
A little unease and a little shock, she asked suddenly, “What? Like you’re setting me free?” She searched his face. He seemed perfectly sincere. She would have sworn that those green eyes were lying and that his face wore only an expression of amusement.
Ghost snorted derisively. “No.” His dark gaze refused to give anything away. “You’re not making deliveries anymore. If you end up dead, I can’t have that on my conscience.”
“Oh, so you care about me now?” He opened his mouth to reply, but to avoid the troubling answer, Nova rushed in with, “If I’m not going to make deliveries anymore, what are you going to make me do now?”
“You’re gonna sit next to me while I do shit.”
Her mouth nearly fell open in disbelief. “No.”
A warm, stunningly attractive smile tugged at the corners of his mouth and lit those green, green eyes as he said in a deep voice, “No? You scared of being alone with me?”
She guessed it was too good for an opportunity for him to pass up on what had occurred between them. A night she wanted to forget all about. “I’m not scared. I just don’t want to follow you around.”
“You want to take up deliveries again, muneca? The answer is no. No to anything you have to say. If you have got a problem, take it up with HR, but oh wait—” He rubbed his chin. “that’s me, so I’m saying no.”
Drawing herself up and putting on her most haughty air, she said, “I just have one condition.”
“Don’t touch me.”
He grinned. “That’s easy. I’m just gonna let you come willingly.” His voice was low, a whisper almost.
Nova took in a deep, fortifying breath. Her pulse thudded and her knees went weak.
The man was impossible! And it was obvious he revelled in provoking her, and that he thought he was going to win the challenge. However, she found herself filled with another emotion entirely. Anticipation. Exhilaration. The thrill of a challenge.