A long line of people was waiting outside the club, waiting to be let in. Some of them were lingering around, smoking, and others were being dropped off in their cars or cabs. Nova had not yet walked out of the car; while she waited for Vicious to finish his phone call, she looked out through the window, watching the bouncers turn people away. Two guys were hurled outside the club, stumbling on their feet and it was apparent they were drunk.
The dress she was wearing was crepe black and simple; although, the back was completely open and the neckline was dipped so low. She had tucked her hair behind her ears and let it fall behind her back. Vicious was also wearing completely black from head to toe.
"The guy we are meeting at the club is a cartel leader. Make sure you don't say anything. Keep your head down. You don't need me to tell you how dangerous cartels are."
She glanced at him, but he wasn't looking at her; he was texting someone on the phone, so she looked away from him without needing to say anything. His association with a cartel didn't stun her, she realised, somehow she had gotten so used to the unexpected surprises.
The bouncer didn't bother to check their IDs, something that told her this wasn't the first time Vicious had been to the club. Colourful lights worked the crowd and the heavy metal music blaring from the speakers almost gave Nova a headache. Three girls with bare clothes on were dancing on poles, while the men who lingered around the stage showered them with money.
Staggering bodies bumped into her, the smell of pot wafting off their clothes. Nova surveyed another corner of the club where people were dancing on the dance floor. Vicious tugged on her arm, then pointed at the stairs. She followed him all the way, but when they reached the top, they were halted by a security guard.
"I have a meeting with Lorenzo," Vicious stated, his voice ice-cold. The security guard nodded, then slide a glance at her. "She's with me."
He let them pass through a red door. Sitting behind a desk was an undeniably attractive man who glanced up when they walk in. The two chairs that were perched in front of the desk was signalled to them by the man that had to be Lorenzo. He wore a tailored black suit sitting perfectly across the vast expanse of his shoulders. Sitting down, Nova tried to calm the churns of her nerves.
"Vicious," he greeted in a smooth, accented voice. She tried to gauge his age, but she couldn't be specific except to place him in the late thirties or early forties. "I didn't know you would be dropping by today."
Vicious crossed his leg over the other. "Well, there's been a few setbacks, and I needed to talk to you to make sure there’s still a deal between us.”
Lorenzo’s brows furrowed. “Those aren't a few setbacks. You've been hit too many times and recently lost a shipment. You can't keep your territory in order." He was shaking his head when his gaze flicked back to her with open curiosity. "And who is this?"
"She's new. She works for me."
His open gaze made her uncomfortable because she didn't have any idea what he was thinking about, but she tried to appear confident that she lacked. After all, she wasn't dealing with a gang, but a cartel. They were ruthless and vengeful. They were not known for forgiveness or mercy, and they had no problem killing anyone; including their families. Any wrong moment would get her killed. Any doubt on their minds would also get her killed.
"I don't like new people. I like faces I know."
Vicious seemed to pause before adding an explanation, "I trust her and vouch for her. She's not going to be a problem."
Smiling through the stab of fear that Lorenzo's admission elicited within her, her eyes flickered to Vicious, whose was something just a fraction less cold than the other man.
"I hope so because you're taking responsibility for her. I will hate to blame you if something happens." His voice was dangerously soft. "You have enough problems on your plate already."
Another beat or two passed. “I'll take care of that; you don’t need to worry about it." There was something about his casual tone that had the hairs raising at the back of her neck. Taking care of it meant more deaths. That was the only justice he knew. That was his only law.
"If you don't, I would have no choice but to turn my deal to someone else. People aren't as patient as you think they are, and in your line of business, there's always someone who wants to take over, and I heard the new player wants to take everything from you."
"I assure you, Lorenzo, that everything is under control. They are new and confident; you and I both know that will get them nowhere. It will be their downfall."
He inclined his head in acknowledgement. “I like you, Vicious. You're never late with your products; that is why when they called me and tried to make a deal with me, I told them to give me a few days to work through some things first.”
Pursing his lips with a quiet restraint that told her he was holding himself tightly in check, Vicious said, "We have a good relationship, and I always deliver. You gotta honour that."
"What can you promise me?"
Vicious was watching him with a coolly, unreadable expression on his face. “You will get your product."
"Tomorrow." It wasn’t a request. “If you can't deliver tomorrow, I'd have no choice but to back away from you. And word on the street is, the feds are sniffing around. They're setting roadblocks on your routes."
Vicious’ expression didn’t change, and Nova had a feeling that he already knew that. “I can't risk a delivery when there's too much heat."
"Well, I guess I'd have no choice but to accept what Batman is offering."
A pit of anxiety opened in her stomach, and it took everything that she had to maintain her relaxed facade. This was important to Vicious, and he didn’t need to tell her that Lorenzo was an important client too. His war with Vipers was on the verge of crippling his business. They wanted to take everything from him, and what was the best way to do that by taking away his clients?
There were moments in life when you choose to do the most stupid things; this was one of those moments when she opened her mouth and said, “I can do it.” Her breath was coming out a little faster now as they edged closer to the heart when both men directed their gaze in her direction.
"Keep quiet, Nova." There was so much edge to his words that sparked nervousness inside her. Maybe she shouldn't have said something. Staring at Vicious now, she could see that he was tense in a way that she hadn't seen before; like all he wanted was to yell at her.
Suddenly, she was thrilled that there was someone in between them to hold off the explosion, and when she delivered her idea, his anger would be replaced with an impressive smile. She was going to save him his business.
"No, let the girl speak, Vicious," Lorenzo ordered, his focus on her a little sharper than before. He looked intrigued to hear what she had to say. "What do you mean you can do it?"
There was the slightest twitch in Vicious’ jaw, and those angry green eyes were the only indication that he was waiting to hear what she had to say. Nova had both men's undivided attention. This wasn’t a flattering moment, however.
"If the feds are sniffing around looking for your products, they won't take another glance when they see a school bus filled with kids," she paused, allowing the silence to stretch taut between them before she added, "I have a friend who has a kid, and I know they have a field trip tomorrow. I can step in for her mother and volunteer to help; that way, I can sneak in your product, and your boys can meet with me there.”
This time, she looked at Vicious when she continued, "You don't have to worry about the feds or Vipers." The gratefulness she was hoping for wasn't there in those green eyes, and her heart beats erratically
"You have a clever one in your hands, Vicious. I will expect no delay tomorrow?"
Releasing a relieved breath that she hadn't even been aware of holding, she gave a timid smile. On the other hand, Vicious rasped a hand over the harsh line of his jaw and nodded to Lorenzo.
They weren’t out of the club yet when he gripped her arm and pulled her into a corner. “What do you think you are doing?!”
"Helping you,” she told him evenly, her voice regaining some of the strength that had been crushed out of her in the office.
"I didn't ask for your fucking help." He manoeuvred his way to the exit door and slipped out into the late night. Nova followed him as they crossed the street to get to his car. The fact that Vicious was talking to her as if she was a child doing something stupid didn’t pass through her, and his voice got increasingly louder as he continued harshly, "Do you know the risks for doing what you just suggested? You could go to jail!"
She pressed her hip into the car. “I won't. It's a great plan."
"It's a great plan until something fucks up. Being connected to me the way you are, that makes you a great target. It's the same shit I tried to take care of three days ago." He laughed darkly, eyes dropping down and away with a twisted grin, and then they were pinning her once again. “If you go to jail, don't count on me bailing you out."
Shocked? No. But angry? Yes. Too angry to even think about reigning herself in, she was almost shouting, “Why are you so pissed? Why are you in a constant battle with what you want and what you're forcing yourself to want? Let me remind you that this is what you wanted me to do in the first place. This is me trying to pay off my debt."
"They won't be any debt paid when you're rotting in fucking jail, and if you're in jail, nothing will stop me from killing Grant." Then he was speaking again, and his voice was utterly devoid of emotion as he spelt it out for her. "And to protect myself and my boys, I'd have no choice but to kill you too."
The words shattered her heart, but it was just the reality. Vicious wasn't a good guy. His world was surrounded by darkness, and she was nothing in that world; just another person caught in the darkness.
"Because people’s lives mean nothing to you. Someone gets in your way or screws with you, let’s kill them, shall we? Because that’s the only thing you’ve learned in your life. And when I find a way to fix the problems you’re facing, you have something to say about that. Do you know what your problem is? You’re an ungrateful asshole who is never pleased with anything in his life.”
There was a calm stillness that settled over him, the kind that was dangerous and out of control, but Nova was too pissed about him always taking the shit out of her; even when she was trying to help him, he couldn’t help but be a dick about it. She knew the risks; she understood them. It wasn’t just about her safety that pissed him off.
“Have some faith in me.” She fought to hold the dark, malicious look in his eyes.
"The only god I have is myself. I put my faith in no one but me, so don't be fucking stupid.” He stepped up to her. “You got into this mess yourself. If something happens tomorrow, Nova, the feds are not the only thing you need to worry about. I will kill you with my bare hands, and that is something even God won’t judge me for.”
Frozen in fear, Nova couldn’t do anything but stared as he walked around to the driver’s seat to get inside the car. Her pulse thudded heavily in her throat, and the fear gnawing at her insides had hollowed her out to an empty shell.
He honked, and she jumped in a startle. With shaking hands, she opened the door and slid in, closing it shut.