“How long are you going to stay here for?” Jess emerged from her bedroom, already dressed and ready to go to work.
Nova glanced over at her face, noting that Jess seemed to busy fixing Mal’s hair. Holding a cup of coffee to her lips, she smiled and teased, “Wow, Jess, I had no idea that you wanted me gone.” But the better question was: how long it would take for him to realise that she was here. She had already gotten away with four days, and by the time he realised she was hiding away at Jess’ house, Nova would have already gotten the time she needed off.
The time to think—which she found she couldn’t do without his presence suffocating her. Nova had to alienate herself with anything Vicious related despite knowing how mad he would be for choosing this decision. But she guessed he wasn’t insane enough if he couldn’t find her the very first moment she had disappeared. The thought of facing him made her grimace.
Jess looked stricken at her, followed by a glare when she noticed the teasing smile on Nova’s lips. “That’s not what I meant. I like having you here, and so does Mal. Maybe think about moving in with us?”
The idea was excellent, but having a roommate who ran around with a gang wasn’t the safest for anyone, especially when Jess had a daughter. Even if Mario were pretending to date her, his presence in Jess’ life wouldn’t be dangerous as much as hers would be. And let her not get started with Vicious unannounced visits. She wouldn’t do that to them.
She gave a watery chuckle. “I would be a terrible roommate.”
“You’ve been here for four days. I think you would be a great roommate, right, Mal?” She looked at her little girl. “You want your Aunt Nova to stay with us?”
Would Jess feel the same if she ever learned about Nova’s truth? The thought saddened her just as much as it frightened her. Jess left her home for a peaceful life, which Nova had lost months ago by fraternizing with a gang leader.
A glow suddenly lit Mal’s face. “Yes!” She bounced over to Nova, yanking the edge of her shirt as she stared up with a pouty face. “Please, stay with us, Aunt Nova.”
“Sorry, kid. Even those puppy eyes won’t make me stay. And you—” Nova’s gaze swung back to Jess. “if you don’t want Mal to be late to school, you have to leave.”
Jess sighed. “Fine. Can you at least turn on your phone?”
“No.” She hugged Mal, then pushed Jess towards the door. With a wave, she closed the door and walked back to Jess’ guest room to take a shower. Nova was confident that she would spend the rest of the day fearing for the worst.
Her phone was where she had left it when she came to Jess’ sitting on the dresser. She remembered leaving the warehouse, going back home and packing a few clothes before running to hide here. How long did she think she was going to be here? There was no answer to that.
“This is where you’ve been hiding from me.”
It was then that she saw him and her mind suddenly emptied, everything spinning right out of focus for a few seconds before it spun violently back into focus again on his tall, dark, very stance. He was standing less than six feet away. Bright white shirt and dark jeans. Her heart gave a wild leap against her ribs.
For the next few seconds, she tried to convince herself it was not really him standing in the bedroom. She made sure Jess told no one that she was staying here.
She tensed, lips parting then closing again because the real answer to that accusation was true. “I’m not hiding from you, Ghost.” Vicious. But he didn’t know that she knew his name.
“What would you call this? You left your house and switched off your phone for four days,” he drawled in a steady voice that seeped with annoyance. “You ghosted me, doll. I’m not the kind of guy who likes to be ghosted or lied to.”
She felt cornered, tired and overwhelmed by a strangling feeling she couldn’t label. “A lot of things offend you.”
“So, what brought this on? Don’t tell me you just decided to leave your house and switched off your phone because you felt like it. Nah, it gotta be something else. Perhaps something that spooked you? Was it Mario? Did he say something to you?”
She didn’t gasp; she didn’t jump in with a flood of denials or excuses aimed to defend what it was he was talking about now.
Lifting a hand into her hair, she pushed the tumbling mass back from her face. “Maybe you should try it.” Her hand dropped to fold along with the other hand, tight across her chest. “It might be something you would like.”
Wearing that smile on his lips that she didn’t like, Vicious shook his head. “Nope. I don’t hide, and I don’t let anyone hide from me. Most people would be dead right now,” he enlightened. “but you’re not most people, so I’m going to ignore it, but vacation is over, darling.”
Five minutes later, Vicious was behind the wheel of his car and Nova in the passenger’s seat as he roared away, sweeping the car down the driveway. He threw the car into gear and set it moving, as Nova felt the heat of the evening brush her face.
“Where are we going?” Almost thirty minutes into the drive, she decided to ask; however, he didn’t answer her question. “Vicious!”
He shot her a side glance, his brows tight into a knot. “You’re a piece of work, you know that? I threaten you, and you get mad. I ask you not to do something, you do it. I tell you to stick with me, you hide from me, and your constant defiance and denial. I’ve met annoying bitches in my life, but you take the cake.”
The more Nova listened to the enraged monologue, the harder it got for her to stay calm. “Don’t call me a bitch.”
Instead of reacting to her anger like she thought he would, he was finding it amusing. “That’s what you get from all of that?”
This was probably one of the most unpleasant drive for her. The bouncing and shaking of the car lifted her heart as she turned to glare at him without saying anything. The road was empty, so of course, he would take advantage of that and piss her off. Speaking of empty highway, she had no idea where he was taking her, but they were not in Portland.
“I don’t know who allowed you to own a license, but that was a terrible mistake.” She could have stopped then and there, but something was telling her to push the limits, hell he started it anyway by dragging her with him. “If you’re on a suicide mission, can I ask to be dropped off?”
“Don’t be a bitch.”
“I gotta be what you call me, right?” It wasn’t a good idea to provoke him, given that they were the only two people in the car, but she was just so mad she said the only thing that popped in her head.
Vicious stepped on the brakes and stopped the car, making it screech. He opened the door and stepped out, slamming the door shut. Nova watched him walk away from the vehicle. He raised his hand to throw something with impressive strength. It took her a few seconds to glance at where the key was supposed to be, then back at him.
She shot out of the car.
“Did you just throw away the keys?!” Her eyes shifted to his empty hands. “Are you insane?!” She stopped when she was inches from him, on the verge of punching him.
His jaw tightened and his fists clenched in anger at her remark. “And you’re alone with an insane man. Oh, what the fuck should Nova do?” he taunted, brushing past her to walk back to the car.
“Why would you do that?”
“Why do you think I would do that?” Vicious was leaning against the car, watching her try not to lose her shit about their situation. Then he moved, flexing his broad shoulders as he straightened away from the vehicle with smooth grace. It took one look, one moment for Nova to be struck with coldness.
“So, this is it, huh? You brought me here to finally kill me,” she stated calmly, but she was a mess inside. Vicious was going to kill her where no one would find her body, and no one knew where she had gone, or with whom. The knowledge was staring right in her face, and it terrified her.
“You saw me, didn’t you?” His expression was growing darker the more he strides toward her. His mouth took on a wryly understanding twist. “Is alright. You don’t need to say anything because I can see it on your face. Ah, that explains why you hid from me. What’s the matter? You got scared? The woman who survived a crossfire between two gangs shouldn’t be scared of a little blood or death.”
“You brought me here on purpose. You threw the keys away on purpose.”
“I brought you here to straighten you out. Figured you would have nowhere to go if you don’t know where you are and no one to rescue you. It’s just you and me, baby.” He grinned. “Now, shall we discuss your problem so we can move past it?”
“The problem isn’t me. No, it’s you,” she hissed with unmasked fear. Fear for who he was. Fear for what she felt about him. “You’re crazy,” she told him squarely, her words crisp with honesty. “You bashed someone’s head in with a fucking bat. That is not someone I want to stand with.”
His eyes began to flush the only warning she got that she had ignited something potentially dangerous inside him before he was suddenly standing in front of her, mere inches apart. “It’s a little too late. The guy that I killed, he’s killed plenty more. I just saved the lives of the people he would have eventually killed.”
Her spine became erect, her eyelashes flickering, and a few breaths were being knocked out of her as he pushed his face close to hers. “There are going to be some things you will see that if you allow yourself to care about, you won’t be able to forget. In my world, you have to live through all the bad shit to find your way to the light at the end of the tunnel.”
“But that’s the problem. I don’t live in your world, Vicious.“
His hands came to grip her shoulders. “You do now,” he said passionately. “You live in my world, Nova. No matter how many times I tell you or how many times you deny it, it doesn’t change a thing.”
She was shocked. Not just for that possessiveness for something that was only temporary, but the effect his touch was also having on her. It strikes directly at her heart so violently it squeezed the air from her tightened chest on a short gasp.
His knuckle brushed over her cheek. “Don’t fear me,” he whispered. “I won’t hurt you.”
Nova felt the tension build inside her as she stood there and absorbed his height and his breath. She could smell the scent of his skin, feel the vibrations of his body that sent her nerve on a wild panic.
“But you’ve been built to hurt people. That’s what you do. That's something that can’t be taken away from.”
“Not you, never you.” His forehead touched hers first. Then he lowered his head down, rubbing their noses together, moving down to her cheeks. Eyes closed, Nova enjoyed the feel of his cheek rubbing against hers, his breath on her, touching every skin on her face.
Her voice came out soft and fragile. “You love the darkness, Vicious. You love death. I’m not built for that kind of life.”
His exhalation was loud. “You will learn. It’s just like turning off the lights and having to walk through the darkness.” He guided her arms to his neck, and she latched onto him like a leach, wrapping her arms around his neck. Nova felt nothing but his presence, his words, his demeanour.
Vicious untangled her arms from his neck, letting it fall at her sides. “Just ask,” he whispered so low she almost didn’t catch it. His hands ran down her arms to find her hands, entwining their fingers together. “Ask, Nova. Ask me to kiss you.”
She had tried to deny it, but this time she didn’t have any strength left. The reactions of her body were clear despite that the man in front of her was a gang leader, a cold-blooded killer.
She opened her mouth to say it, but nothing managed to slip past her lips when bullets started raining down on them.