Public places with Vicious was something Nova needed to avoid at all cost, but here she was, about to make a mistake of meeting him in a cafe. She couldn't even tell him why she didn't want to meet him in public without coming straight out and admitting that she was in contact with an FBI who was after him.
What would he think?
She would tell you what he would think. Vicious would think she was betraying him, and it wasn't a bullet through her skull that she feared. Nova feared his disappointment. She feared his hatred. He trusted her; the least she could do was keep that trust and make sure she didn't break it. Trust seemed to be a priceless thing to him.
"Sorry I'm late." She slid into the empty chair and flashed a smile to the man in front of her. She wasn't told that they would have company. Actually, Vicious didn't tell her anything.
"And you're gonna pay for that," Vicious said, quietly and without looking at her, sending a chill down her back with his voice, not to mention his eyes that were now staring into hers.
But Nova shook off what she was feeling and rolled her eyes, refusing to be intimidated. The other man was staring at her in curiosity. His dark blonde hair and blue eyes gave him a look of calmness, while Vicious radiated fierce brutality.
"Nova, this is Hunt. Hunt, this is—"
The way the two words rolled off Hunt's tongue made her shivered, and a blush tinged her cheeks. She almost choked on her words, ignoring the other man's chuckle. "I'm...I'm not his girl," she corrected, hoping her voice didn't sound like a lie. "I work for him."
There was a beautiful smile softening the harsh lines of Vicious' face as he drawled quietly, "Yeah, and when she doesn't work for me, we work each other."
Her eyes flared in shocked response, and Hunt just laughed softly, "You're a bastard, Vic. You don't do a woman like that."
His answering smile was punchable. "Hunt is the go-to-guy when there's a lot of heat around. With everything that has been going on, I'm laying low on my usual business."
Hunt picked up from there, "We're here to work out a new business plan, in the meantime. That's what I do for Vic. I have ears around...I know what's hot in the market, and what's not. Basically, I'm an important asset."
Taking this in, she realized Vicious wasn't one to sit down and take a break from everything. He would rather jump out of another problem into another one. Maybe this time around, he could be doing something good. "What business are you thinking of?"
Hunt lifted two fingers. "I have two. Fake paintings and assassin, but we both know Vicious ain't into that, so we're going with fake paintings and selling them at high prices to dumb rich folks willing to buy."
"And Hunt will hook me up with the artist."
It was enough to make her jerk her head back, blinking in surprise. Fake paintings? "You could've used this opportunity to start something that isn't illegal." Honestly, he was such a dumbass. This should have been a wake-up call for him. This was the universe giving him another second chance to rid himself of the criminal world, to save himself from an impending doom looming over him.
But there was that wicked twist of a smile as he murmured while looking at Hunt, "She's cute, ain't she?" He was fixing her with a penetrating stare that went right down to her soul. Vicious pursued his lips before countering with, "Baby, bad tastes good. It's addicting, and when you're deep into it..." He lowered his voice down, "like I was into you, you don't want to leave it behind."
She wanted to kick him under the table.
"Vic's been in the business for years now. Death is the only thing that's gonna turn this man legal."
She scowled, and she was so annoyed, she could barely contain herself. She was practically crawling out of her skin with frustration. "This is why you're wanted in the first place."
He tilted his head. She swallowed thickly and could almost swear that she saw a flicker of a smile playing across his lips. Did he think she cared? Yeah, he definitely knew she cared. She had to care because if he went down, she went down with him. But was that the only reason?
"The more you're a wanted man, the more customers will flow, and the more your prices will go high. What you think is a bad thing is a good thing for him." And then, Hunt was leaning forward, eyes blazing with excitement as he looked back and forth between them. "I just have the best idea."
"That's what I'm paying you for."
Hunt's eyes went around Nova's face and body. "Your girl has a pretty face. Why don't you put her in as your saleswoman? Not only will she attract the male customers, but you're completely safe from showing your face, and anyone who looks at her wouldn't think she ain't legit. Nova will be your face, and you can be the silent owner.
And it was there again, that small fright, that warning bells that came in the form of Mario's and Screw's voices, the ones that warned her about getting deeper into Vicious' mess, and it was just so loud, rampaging through her veins, bursting up below her skin.
"No," she shut down the idea instantly.
"No?" Hunt seemed thrown off by her response, or by how hard and harshly it came out, and he wouldn't understand her. He wouldn't understand. He didn't care for her safety. He didn't care whether she lived or died. He cared that he just had an idea, and she was quick to squash it.
"That's dangerous. When the business gets busted, it's me they will come after."
"I can get you fake IDs."
She felt her face tightened, and she was ready to yell, to go off; hell, she was, but then, the gears in her head started turning, and she found herself saying, "But my face...." Because she just loved the taste of power. The thrill. She knew she had a problem.
"You can wear a wig." The dark blonde man found the solution, excitedly might she add. He shot Vicious a look, who had opted to remain silent. "What do you think?"
"Nah, I ain't bringing her into this. She's already doing more than she should," he clipped out as he chuckled, low, as he said it, and took the opportunity to look her up and down, cripplingly slow.
"I want to do it." She would be lying if she said it wasn't stupid of her to say that. There was a livewire of terror twisting inside her, but it was Vicious that annoyed her to bits. Vicious that changed her mind. Vicious, who thought he could move her like a chess piece whenever he wanted.
"No." The flat-out refusal sent her into a tailspin.
"You aren't the boss of me."
He leaned forward. "I don't need to remind you that I still own you, yeah?" He fixed her with his cold stare. "Which means you will do as I say."
Nova raised her chin, trying to quench her annoyance. "So, I can't do what I want, but when it suits you, you're jumping into the idea?"
His expression hardened, and he straightened, drawing up to his full height. She didn't regret her words because they were the truth. "It's not about—"
"Then, what is it about?" She leaned a little closer, enough she could smell him again. She lets herself get a little closer – lets herself inhale, and part her lips just enough to wet the upper one.
Vicious scrutinized her with unsettling calm. "Like you said, it's dangerous—"
"That has never stopped you before. And a fake ID and a wig will fix everything, Vicious." All she knew was that there was something in her chest, on her mind, on her tongue and lips, pushing her towards that decision, like a rip in the ocean, guiding her towards its dangerous depths.
She looked at him, at the tense chords of his throat, and the uneasy slump to his shoulders, she guessed he was probably more annoyed than her. "Just because this asshole tells you it will work doesn't mean it will. Use your head, Nova." He snapped his head toward Hunt. "She ain't doing it."
"Get me the fake ID." She fished her phone out and gave it to Hunt, who took it without a second thought. "And also your number because I have a feeling this one won't give it to me."
Vicious clenched his eyes shut in that way he did when he was trying to burn out the flame on his short fuse. "Hunt...." The warning was louder than the chatters in the cafe. His stare was heavy.
"Dude, we can not use this idea, and Nova is old enough to decide for herself."
“And if it fucks up and she goes to jail? What will you say, then?” he demanded. “You gonna look me in the eye and tell me she’s old enough to decide whether she should take the plea deal and burst our asses together?”
“I’m not a rat.”
“I need you to shut up,” he warned her with a glare, taking his eyes off her to look at Hunt. “If not the FBI then, surely you know, this ain’t a permanent thing? Sooner or later, this business is gonna get busted, and what happens if those assholes come after her?”
Hunt sighed. “Nothing like that, man, but I get what you mean. This is the only way it will work, though. If you go in, no one’s gonna give a man with tattoos all over his body a glance, and if you’re lucky, they won’t call the cops on you. Don’t tell me you haven’t thought about that too.”
Vicious gritted his teeth.
“I want to do it, Vicious. It's my decision, and you can’t take it away from me.”
I want to help you, asshole.
Although he looked composed, the sudden rough raking of his hand through his hair suggested otherwise. It took him a moment to answer like he was thinking of the best way to say something, and her gaze didn't falter from him. But then, he was clamping his mouth shut. He was getting out of his seat, and he was strutting away from them.
When she found him outside and sitting in his car, almost as if he had been waiting for her to turn up, Nova opened the door and slid into the passenger's seat.
"You know, if I keep leaving off work early, I might get fired." She was displaying a smile, armored with a teasing comment, but she ended up frowning when he didn't deign to reply, just sped off down the street.
"Then, you can become a full-time member of my gang." He wasn't smiling. He wasn't teasing. It was a comment full of annoyance and frustration. Nova watched him for a second, two—he was gripping onto the wheel tightly, his deep rising chest, and the force of his foot against the pedal and his hand on the gear.
"I'm not a part of your gang."
The chuckle he lets out was chaotic before he toned it down. "You tell yourself that, muneca, but we both know you've done things only members of a gang do. Not sure if your stupidity is pretense, or if I had just been blind by it." The words came sharp, like a bullet through the soft flesh.
She gaped at him. She wasn't prepared with the heavy amount of feelings she got; she was hurt, damn it, it hurt to hear him say that. And maybe he was right; he was right to call her stupid. What he called stupid was what she called denial. She would never be able to admit that, because admitting that meant admitting she had failed her parents. She had failed herself. She had failed everyone that loved her. So, yes, she was okay with being called stupid.
"Are you mad at me? For what? Being part of the plan? If you're going to get mad every time I volunteer to do something, maybe stop inviting me to these meetings."
His glare was so heady, so strong that she thought maybe today might be the first time he would shoot her, but she had to remember he wouldn't do that. Vicious ended up rolling his eyes and looking away from her.
And fine, Nova thought, fine.
"We are here." He didn't wait for her before he was getting out of the car. They ended up at a building she had never seen before, but this part of the street was quieter—a few stories high, modernized.
She was suddenly darting forward and reaching out to grab his arm, pulling him back towards her. Vicious turned and looked at her in a way she couldn't decipher.
"Where are we? I thought you were taking me home?"
He looked her up and down then, but not in the way he usually did and huffed out a laugh, prying her fingers off his arm. "Home? Nah, since you insisted on not being a queen who sits her ass down, I gotta show you where everything is gonna happen."
"You could have just said that without being mean," Nova said with a glare, and Vicious laughed, some short, sharp thing, just under his breath.
"Come on, your majesty."
She followed after him, glaring at his back. He led them down inside the building. Plain walls greeted her, high ceilings and clean, marble floors. Vicious walked her down to an arch hallway to a small roomhe called an office with plain walls and nothing inside, just an empty space.
"How sure are you this is going to work?" she asked, not quite able to help herself.
"Having second thoughts, are we?"
"I'm not, but it just seems like no one would buy it. Fake paintings? Don't you think they can pick out the fake from real?"
He turned to her. "Wrong. I've dealt with rich people before, doll, and they like their shiny things, but ya know what they like the most? Signatures. They like owning shit most people don't have, so they have something to brag about in their parties. They don't care where it comes from, as long as it's part of history."
What he said might be right.
"How much did this building cost?"
A sizzling, predatory glimmer sparked in his eyes. "Aw, you wanna know how much I earn? Are you wondering if I rented it? Got a loan?"
"Cut it out," she gritted out.
His gaze darted over to her face, mouth tightened with suppressed amusement. "That pissed you off?"
Nova paused, heart in her throat as she watched him studiously avoid her gaze, at the breaths that drew into his lungs and out, the way he pulled his lower lip between his teeth as he circled the room. She decided to ignore his taunts and inquired about the most important question.
"How are you going to advertise the business, and all the while, stay out of the FBI's radar?"
"You are going to do it."
A strangled noise left her lips as she said the only thing she could, "Me?"
He bobbed his head. His smile was like lightning in the darkness, blinding and beautiful and mysterious. "Queen takes charge, remember?"
She wanted him so badly it was physically painful. "I don't know any rich people."
"You know me," he remarked. "And lucky enough for you, I have connections. I can get you into an exclusive rich men's party and get you a few business cards to distribute to them."
"And how do I do that?" The sudden ache between her thighs had her reaching for the wall to maintain her balance.
Vicious reached out to steady her before his palms pressed flat to the wall on either side of her shoulders, caging her in. Nova couldn't think of anything. Her heart was pounding. She could hear the blood rushing past her eardrums.
A ghost of a smile touched his lips and made him impossibly more handsome. "What you do best, doll, you make 'em come to you." He caught her by the upper arms and searched her face with that vivid green gaze.
The now-familiar electricity crackled to life between them, the pull made fiercer by her gaze and her quiet, seductive voice. "And then?"
"And then we get ourselves some money..." His thumb brushed over the corner of her mouth, then lifted to his own. He sucked on the pad and purred, "We're like Bonnie and Clyde, aren't we? But the best upgrade."
She grinned as a shiver moved through her, followed by a heated ache between her legs. "Do I seduce your rich men?"
Vicious' gaze darkened, and his voice lowered intimately, "Whatever works for you." His tongue traced the shell of her ear, and she shivered. It felt like every cell in her body was straining toward his.
Nova shoved a hand in his hair and clenched it tight, holding him in place. All the chaotic emotion and energy that had been writhing around inside her became too much to contain. "Oh, so you're not going to be jealous of all the men who would be all over me?" Her eyes were widely looking into his, searching.
"Nah." He nuzzled the side of her face, his lips brushing over her ear.
His humor fled as he straightened, his eyes darkening. "I ain't stupid enough to send you there alone."
"You're coming with me?"
"Bringing the next best thing. I trust her enough to keep everything verbally. Nothing physical will occur."
Nova pushed down the jealousy that began to rise within her. Her? Who was that? Who did he trust apart from her?
"And if I don't like that?"
Vicious' gaze was clear and steady. "We will see, won't we, doll?" His voice had softened, and it stirred an alarming yearning.
She wanted to make him feel the jealousy she was battling inside, so she said, "You know seduction doesn't only happen verbally, right?"
"You know I shoot to kill, right?"
Nova laughed. It was like seeing herself in the mirror. That jealousy and possessiveness were written all over his face. "You can't shoot the face of your business, Vicious."
"Who says I'm shooting you?"