Her hands shook. Despite wanting to appear calm, her entire body was shaking. The horrifying images flipped through her mind, reminding her exactly who she was dealing with.
Ghost—no, Vicious. That was his name.
You will find that killing someone has an oddly calming effect.
Shaken to her very roots, all Nova could do was sit and tried to breathe normally. Was that what he had felt? Calmness? No sense of remorse? Guilt? Her lungs seemed to have seized up while her heart was thundering against the fear that had wrapped itself tightly around her chest.
"Enjoyed the view?"
The words sounded loud to Nova and held her trapped as she whirled around to stare at the man standing by the door, looking the epitome of evil in his dark clothes and a cigarette sitting in between his fingers, a glint in his eyes.
"You look like you've seen a ghost." Mario gave a sly smirk. "Or maybe you just saw the ruthless side of my cousin. He does earn his name, don't you think? Vicious?"
"I don't know what you're talking about." Nova breathed out slowly.
His laugh was firm and explosive. It called her a liar. "Word of advice? Stay away from Vic. You saw what he did. That is the kind of man he is. Cruel. Ruthless. He has no problem taking a life. Is that the kind of man you want to be around with?”
"You act like I have a choice in this. I have a debt on my head." She lowered her eyes to the ground while she tried to decide how she felt about seeing the darker side of Vicious she hadn't seen before. She didn't like it at all. Her mind threw up a picture of him standing over Grant while he bashed his head in. Bile rose in her throat.
"Your brother's debt, not yours."
What everyone liked to remind her. She looked up again, not wanting to continue this line of discussion. "You want me to let my brother die, knowing that I could have saved his life? Would you do the same for G–Vicious?"
"Nah. I'll protect him cause that's what families do, right? And I know something else too, Nova. You like this. You like playing with danger, so it doesn't matter if you have a choice or not," Mario thrust the words at her like a fisted punch. "Once you had that taste, you want more."
Opening her lips to let fly with a heated answer, Nova flailed for a second and closed her lips again. She didn't have to justify herself to him. After all, why should she defend herself when Mario would always try to see her in a negative light? Ever since she began working for them, he made her into a scapegoat.
"I don't like you, and I don't trust you, but once you find yourself tangled up in thorns, there's no way out," he stated contemptuously. "Once you're in too deep, there's no coming back from it. Is that what you want for yourself? A life of crime?" he punched again.
"I don't want anything. I want to save my brother, that's what I want. Vicious doesn't want to let me go, Mario," she cried out, pale as a paper because everything he had said was partially correct. "If you can find a way to get me to meet his boss—tell him what Vicious is doing to me, he can help me." If he knew Ghost was taking advantage of her situation, he would revoke their deal, and she would go back to arranging what they owed the gang.
Mario snorted. "His boss? Who fed you that bullshit? Vic is the boss, and he would only let you go when he feels like it, which won't happen any time soon because he sees something in you. You represent something good, something innocent. Vicious wants to corrupt that."
Corrupt? She picked up the word and tasted it for a few moments, before deciding that yes, she didn't like it one bit and happy to do so whatever it would take to prevent him from doing that. "Why?"
"Because he wants to prove that people are exactly what he thinks they're. Fake," he offered in a tone that gauged to frighten, not soothe. "They build this bubble of goodness around them, but with a little shove, he thinks he can bring out their dark side."
With a little push, I can show you how bad you can be. That was what he had said to her the first time he demanded she worked for him. She hadn't taken it seriously. She hadn't taken a lot of things seriously. Vicious wanted to ruin her? Nova laughed a surprisingly pleasant sound amidst all the tension.
"Look at, you two! You made up?" Vicious appeared from behind Mario, who moved out of the way to let him pass through. Her heart jumped nervously. The tension in the room must have been evident because she glanced warily at Mario, then skittered her gaze over to Vicious.
"Nah. She's too weak for me."
Despite the deliberate insult from the man filled with contempt, her coolly composed face showed absolutely nothing, no hint of offence, not even anger.
Vicious chuckled. “So, how's the relationship going?"
No one else moved. Mario wouldn't, she couldn't, and the silence gnawed in the air surrounding them. Vicious arched a brow at their silence as she watched him run his eyes over her. But she figured out that he wasn't asking her that question. It was specifically made for his cousin that had nothing to do with her.
It had to do with Mario and Jess' relationship. What was the need for Vicious to ask that, she thought, and the look he was sending her spoke volumes? Did he think something was going on between her and Mario that he felt the need to remind her that his cousin was fake dating her friend to throw whatever he thought was going on off? Nova was offended that he would think she would have anything to do with Mario.
"Fine. It's still a great way to pass the time," Mario murmured belatedly. "You might want to think about putting a leash on that one." He jerked his head at Nova.
Vicious stiffened, the finely corded muscles along his jawbone clenching at Mario's words. "Nah. I like her the way she is,” he went on coolly, looking at the other man. "Now, get out, please.”
At least he wasn't afraid to lie, Nova reflected ruefully. The door closed behind them.
"You're not saying anything."
She spun around to stare at him, a fresh frisson of alarm stinging along her spine. His eyes were following her, and she was aware that his brain was working faster than she would like. Aware that he was waiting for her to tell him but was not determined to ask her again.
"I have nothing to say," she replied, looking directly into his carefully neutral eyes.
That had his gaze narrowing sharply on her impassive eyes. He must not have liked the tone of her voice or how easily she brushed him off, and she didn't care that he didn't like it.
"You never seem to have that problem before," he threw back. "What's going on in your head? Anything I should know about?" He was standing by the window, ankles crossed, arms folded across his broad chest, his body tense and his expression tight.
Her heartbeat suddenly decided to stammer. Angry with herself for being so damned obvious, and annoyed with him for knowing her well enough to know she was hiding something. Nova didn't answer right away, wondering what his reaction would be if she told him the truth.
He studied her slowly. "Then you might want to look at my hand? Just like old times, huh?" Vicious uncrossed his arms and lifted his hand to show her his bloody knuckle, and she almost lowered her face over his grin and gripped tightly at her sleeves.
Then he had gone before she could blink, disappeared through a door, leaving her to rise from the couch. He was back without warning, striding through the door he had gone through, shirtless. Her heartbeat accelerated, the feeling of utter panic began to erupt all over her, holding her captive.
"Here," he said.
She blinked, trying to clear the effect he was having on her, her darkened eyes lowering to the small towel that was wrapped around his hand.
"I can't find a first aid kit, but I found a plaster. Think that should work."
He was standing so close to her, setting off electricity inside her. She could feel his body heat, could smell the musky scent of him. Her lungs began to fill her chest as memories swam up out of nowhere, memories of how it had felt to be held against his warm, tight body.
Shakingly, she took it from him, plucking it with a snap from her fingers and ripping away it's casing, while her teeth clamped hard into her bottom lip as his eyes bored into her face.
"You won't ask me about him?"
Air drew into her body sharply, her face almost draining every last bit of colour in them. She grimaced, but her chin didn't come up because she knew he was asking about the man he had killed. "No," she prompted, unable to resist the dig. She removed the towel and inspected the damage. "It's none of my business, remember?" She looked up then.
She had managed to surprise him; she could see that. And she was gratified to note that she had managed to make him look at her and see her, instead of concentrating on what he thought she was thinking about. She pressed gently on the cuts.
"Yeah, but that didn't stop you before. You starting to listen to me now, muneca?"
Her eyes clouded over, her mind shooting off to some dark place inside her that made her look so bleak. Then her lashes nickered, bringing her eyes back into focus, and the look was gone. She smoothed the plaster across his grazed knuckle and watched it strengthened out.
"There, done," she replied and rose to her feet. "You will live." When she attempted to draw herself away from him, his hand shot out to catch her wrist, yanking her back into his chest.
Her eyes widened when he tilted his head to the side, his parted mouth angling across her lips. She was on the verge of losing her shit when he laughed and pulled away from her.
"Don't worry; I won't kiss you. I was serious when I said you're going to be the one to make the first move." He stared deep into her eyes, challenging Nova to do it, to give in to what was bubbling inside them both.
He always did have the knack to completely strip her with one look, just as he was doing now deliberately. And she hated it. Hated what it made her feel.
"I'm going to have to keep disappointing you," she snapped.
"Why? You got a boyfriend?"
She refused to answer him, her mouth set in a defiant pout. Vicious formed his conclusions as his expression darkened. "If you do have a boyfriend, you and I are going to have a problem. If you're thinking of having a boyfriend, I'd think twice because you're going to have someone's death on your conscience. I don't like to share." His possessiveness, she noted, really showed no bounds.
"What does that even mean? You don't own me."
His eyes didn't waver, not for a second. "That's where you are wrong. You are here, and I'm not letting you go."
Her angry eyes shot bright warnings at him, and her clenched fists were tight, a determined effort to do him some damage. "We have a deal! I work for you until I have paid off Grant’s debt."
His eyes were hard, his features grim. "You're right. Until you pay off your brother's debt, and you haven't. Until I say you have, you're sticking with me."
"I hate you.”
"You want to, but you don't. You can't."
She wanted to hit him, but she couldn't. She tried to say something in her defence, but she couldn't do that because the evidence was so true.