Her heart rate sped up, and her palms grew damp as she walked into Vicious' apartment. The awful anxiety she had felt earlier intensified with each passing moment. Nova swept her gaze around the empty living room, then strode down the hallway to get to his bedroom.
She had just walked in when Vicious stepped out from the bathroom, stealing her breath with his exposed torso. His hair was damp, and droplets of water were cascading down his neck and upper chest, a towel wrapped around his waist, which was dangerously close to exposing his nudity.
He looked almost startled to see her, his gaze darkening for an instant before his perfect smile slid effortlessly into place.
Seeing him alive and well almost brought tears to her eyes. Nova didn't realize how badly she needed to see him alive until she saw him standing there, and how her body was responding instinctively to the sight of his, which made it harder to rein in her emotions.
Vicious was walking over to her, and then she felt his hand slid around her waist. She turned into him and surrendered everything to his touch.
"Hi," she gasped as his lips brushed against her neck and lingered on her pulse. His tongue swept against it as she tried to turn around to him, but his arms tightened around her. He moved behind her and pressed into her. "Where were you? The warehouse...the warehouse caught on fire, and the police were all over the place. I thought you were—"
"I did it," he murmured against her flushed skin.
Confused, Nova clasped a hand over his on the other side of her neck and held it there, turning in his arms. Vicious' hands fell around her waist again, his eyes dark with lust and need as they swept over her form. She reached her finger under his chin to tip his head up to look into her eyes.
"What do you mean you did it? Did what?"
"The fire," he whispered against her skin as he lowered his head, "I set the place on fire and reported it. It was a necessary thing to do, although I should have told you guys about it." His arms slid around to her back, pressing a hand to her hip to anchor her against him. "I knew there was something I forgot to do." His shoulders shook with laughter.
Nova was still trying to process this information. "Why would you do that? And why would you scare me like that?" She swatted his chest, openly glaring at him. "If the police find something..."
He grinned, the sight was delicious to her, as he rested his forehead on hers. "The only important thing they will find is the dead bodies I left behind." He gave her a chaste kiss on the neck before he pulled away and grabbed his boxer briefs on the bed.
He shrugged and shamelessly dropped his towel to the ground, revealing his thick hardness. "I was cleaning up a mess." He pulled up his briefs to his waist without taking his gaze off her.
Needing more than that, Nova asked again, "What mess?"
Vicious' voice grew gruff when he explained, "Vipers know about you, or at least they knew about you." Right now, he was putting on his dark, tight pants.
"What do you mean they know about me?" Her eyes expanded, and it hurt to breathe as her lungs strained against her chest.
"I came to meet you guys after the auction was over, but then I got really suspicious when I saw a black van parked in the shadows, right outside the building. I couldn't get out of the car until I was sure I knew who was in the van. For almost ten minutes, nothing happened. Just as I was about to dismiss it as nothing, a man came out of the van to pee," His voice slipped, and the icy rage he must have felt earlier was in him again.
Her hands turned into fists on her dress. She was more tensed than she had ever been. She hated what she was hearing, but she had to hear everything. If Vipers knew about her, it meant her life was in danger. She was in danger. Nova bit her lip, trying to keep everything in, and she could almost taste her own blood.
Vicious shook his head, and there wasn't an ounce of him that screamed he feared for her life too. In fact, he looked more amused than concerned. "See the thing is, when you've been in a gang for years, it's easy to pick out the bad guys. I instantly knew who they were, and I knew they must have followed you there, which means they must have seen you." He shrugged into his dark grey shirt and began to button it up, his abs flexing with his movements as he crossed over to the close his closet.
Panic was rising within her. Her chest felt tight. Something was pressing on it. She gulped for breath, her heart racing.
Without turning around, he went on saying, "And if they had, they would have taken you with them or killed you." He twisted around, looked at her without a tinge of remorse in his voice when he added, "So, I killed them all. Five of them. I sneaked out of my car, created a small diversion, and slit their throats, and when that didn't work, I used their own guns on them. Of course, you wouldn't have heard the gunshots because they had a silencer."
She sucked in a breath to get through what his words meant. "You did all of that for me?" Nova's low voice wrung out, thick with emotion. He killed those men for her, and she couldn't wrap her head around it.
Leaning into his closet, Vicious crossed his arms. His shirt remained open at the collar, a look that was hot and tempting. "And I would still do it again." His fierce promise made her toes curl as he appeared smooth and unruffled with his powerful frame lounging against the door, but Nova could sense the tension vibrating beneath that calm surface.
"But that's not all the story. I threw their bodies in the back of the van, then drove it to the warehouse. You see, Nova, I thought about it and decided to play a game. The FBI is gonna find those dead bodies, identify them as members of Vipers and assume the warehouse was their operation center. Then, what will happen next? All their focus and attention will be on Vipers, and Batman will be too busy worrying about the FBI to remember me. He and his gang will be forced to go underground, which means I'm free of both of them for now. I shot two birds with one stone."
Nova studied his face, finally being caught up to his plan and why he didn't look the least worried about any of it. "I can't believe you didn't let us in on your plan."
He stalked over and stood in front of her, reached his hand out toward her, and brushed her cheek with his fingertips. "It's not like I knew that was gonna happen," he retorted with a chuckle. "But don't worry, those who saw your face are dead. You don't have to worry about anyone coming for you." He framed her face with both of his hands, a tilt in his mouth. "Well, except for me."
She had to look away to comprehend everything, mostly the fact that Vicious had saved her life tonight. If he hadn't been there, what could have happened? Where would she be right now? Dead? Alive? Taken?
Vicious turned her back to him. His eyes were tender. His thumb brushed over her cheek. "I didn't tell you this so you could worry about it. We gotta be careful now, muneca. I have to limit your presence with me and everyone—"
"Wait, what?" Nova tilted her head, so she was eye-leveled with him. She did not like that. "Are you pushing me away? What about the new business? Who is going to—"
"I didn't say I'm pushing you away. I meant unless it's absolutely necessary, we can't be seen with you in public. I would do anything to make sure no one ties you with me, Nova. If I have to declare war with everyone for you, then so be it."
"Because you dragged me into this? You think you owe it to me to protect me?" she questioned with slightly wide eyes, reeling.
"I didn't do it because I forced you to work for me. I did it for me, Nova. Anything happens to you, I won't forgive myself." He cupped the side of her face. And I would rather kill for you than to let you go. I don't even care if all of my shit ends up ruining you."
Nova played with her fingers, anxious and nervous. She looked down for a second to gain some confidence, and when she looked up, she told him, "But someone saw me tonight. At the warehouse with Screw. He's my friend, but it's more than that. He works for the FBI, and he's been looking into you for a while." She bit down on her lower lip, hard enough to hurt. Nova didn't even trust herself to look into his eyes now, knowing he was going to accuse her of betraying him.
"And he is your friend?"
She looked up at him when he spoke, his eyes blazed, searing her with heat. "Yes, we went to school together."
"Do you think it's something to worry about?"
"I don't know, is it?"
Vicious’gm gaze was on her face, his lips thinned into a frustrated line. "He's an FBI who is looking to slap the cuffs on me, and he is also your friend. Does that sound like a problem for the future? If it comes down to it, would you hate me for killing your friend?"
"Vicious," Nova choked out, alarmed. "It won't even come to that."
With his lips twisted ruefully, he admitted, "He wants to take me down. I guess it will all come down to whether you can stomach being with someone who killed your friend."
Her heart was wildly beating and aching. "Can we not talk about this, please?" She looked up at him, and his gaze was neutral. "Anything but this." Vicious brushed some strands of her hair away from her temples, his own wet strands falling around his face.
Nova had never thought about it. She knew Ben would not stop pursuing after Vicious, and there was no way Vicious would go down without a fight. Dizziness threatened to override her. The possibility of the two of them killing one another scared her. Her only hope was Ben never catching Vicious. She did not know how she was going to handle it.
"Do you want to learn how to shoot a gun?"
She tensed. "What for?"
He traced her left brow with his fingertip. "Just in case."
"I'm not sure..." she trailed off hesitantly.
Vicious' eyes drilled into hers, a heavy-lidded gaze. "I want you to be able to protect yourself."
Her stomach dropped. Even though he wasn't telling her, it didn't mean that he wasn't insinuating that there was a chance he wanted her to learn how to shoot because she would end up holding someone at gunpoint. It didn't sit right with her.
"I don't want to be in a situation where I have to pull the trigger. Promise me that's not going to happen."
Vicious' eyes softened, and his hand touched her throat gently. "Promises are lies," he murmured, as his thumb rubbed against her. "I will teach you how to defend yourself. You need it. I need it." His hand trailed down her arm in a caress. “So trust me when I say, it’s very important to know how to defend yourself.”
“You could teach me how to fight?” she suggested instead.
“We will do both.” He suddenly pulled away. "I've got something for you."
She wrapped her arms protectively around her and watched him walk further into his bedroom. “Unless it's a memory wiper that I can use on Ben, then I don't want it."
Vicious chuckled and opened his dresser. Turning back around, he crossed over to her and held out a box. Nova arched a brow but decided to take it and opened it in front of him.
What she saw inside the box made her smirk. It was the crown he had been giving to her, but this one was twice the size of the last one. It could fit two of her fists now.
"We're getting there," he remarked when she held it in her hand.
Nova woke up alone. Vicious' arms that had been around her last night weren't around her anymore. She didn't feel his legs entwined with hers anymore, and when she turned over, she knew she was going to find an empty side. The clock said that it was after eight in the morning. There were no lights on, and the curtains had been shut, and if she hadn't taken a good look at the clock, she would have mistaken it for the night.
She rose and grabbed his shirt from the stool, pulling it on as she went in search of him. She walked down the hallway. A light was on and shone underneath a closed-door, stopping her from moving forward. As Nova opened the door, she saw him in the middle of a gym. His pants were still on, and sweat gleamed down his chest.
Vicious' hands were taped as he circled a punching bag. Her eyes grazed over the blood on the tape, her heart pummeling in her chest. Nova tried to find where he had been hurt, but she didn't see blood anywhere else. His muscles constricted and stretched as he continued to hit the punching bag. Then he stopped as he saw her.
He touched the bag to hold it as it swayed, his chest rising up and down from his breathing. When she stepped inside, he wiped his forehead with the back of his hand and expelled more breath.
She crossed the room to stop in front of him, wounding her arms around his neck as she pulled him down for a kiss. Her lips lingered on his, deep and warm, and Nova could taste the saltiness it carried. Vicious deepened the kiss, wrapped his arm around her waist and swept her off her feet.
Nova wound her legs around his waist and felt him even more against her, and then his hands slid under the edge of her shirt, to the inside of her thighs. He felt the string of her thong, in the apex between her legs, and started to rub against it. Desire and pleasure rushed through her. Her hips began to move in rhythm with his hand, and it wasn't long before he swept her shirt up, and his hand was against her skin.
"Vicious," she gasped out. He slipped two fingers inside her. They went deep before he pulled out and then pushed back in, his tongue sweeping against her neck. Nova gasped. Her hips moved, so his fingers slid even deeper. He was pulling her mouth to his to kiss her fast and hard, his tongue sweeping inside and brushing against hers. It grew more demanding as his fingers continued their assault.
She began to whimper as his fingers picked up speed. Her nails grazed his shoulders as her breath quickened. It was building and building. She felt it nearing. Pushing her hips against him, Vicious growled at the last thrust before she exploded in his arms.
Her body trembled as the waves washed over her. Vicious held her up. He pressed a tender kiss to her shoulder and lowered her back down to the floor. Pulling her against him, he pressed another lingering kiss against her lips.
When he licked all his fingers that carried her juices and ran his tongue over his lips, he asked, “You okay?"
Nova nodded, her head falling to his chest. He lifted it to study her carefully. He must have seen something on her face because he asked, "What's got you worried?"
Her lips parted silently for a moment, itching to ask him something, but she hesitated, and he observed the shift in her expression, the worry that she had pushed aside now creeping back into her expression. "Are you sure you got everyone? What if someone had escaped, or the ones you killed told another Viper member about me?" It was something that had been on her mind all night.
His eyes darkened, and his jaw slacked. "I don't think they do."
"Why do you think so?"
"Because you wouldn't be here with me right now. Batman doesn't leave anything to chance. If he thinks he can get to me through you, I doubt you would have made it here last night," he growled, his thumb digging into her cheek so firmly that her teeth were nearly cutting into the inside of her cheek.
She watched the set of emotions that played out across his face. Nova had no choice but to trust him. Vicious wouldn't risk her life. He wouldn't sit still unless he were sure no one knew about her. "Okay. I trust you." And she did mean it. Wholeheartedly, she trusted him.
His head cocked to the side. "What else is bothering you?"
"Should I text Ben?" She cuts herself off, expelling a sharp, exasperated breath. "That I saw him? Wouldn't it look suspicious if I don't text him?" Nova explained cautiously, wary of how he would react. Vicious promptly schooled his reaction, but she did saw the prickly edges of his irritation. "He would expect me to say something."
He tapped two of his fingers to her forehead. "Stop thinkin' too much. But if you think there's something to worry about, then text him. Make sure you do it when you have a good cover-up story for last night," he decided, sharpening his gaze when her lips parted for a conclusion.
"I was just passing through?"
He snorted. "He ain't that dumb, sweetheart. Work on your story."
"Then give me something to say," she whined, softening her tone and furrowing her brow as he gazed down at her with a sly smirk.
"Work it out yourself. That's what a good queen will do."
"You suck," she replied, but her tone was yielding, and she knew she wouldn't fight him on this because he was right. She had to find a way to fix this on her own. To learn how to fix her own problems. To be like him.
"I can give you something to suck on." He played with his waistband and wiggled his eyebrows suggestively.
Nova pushed at his chest, laughing. "Shut up. I need to go home and then go to work." The fingers of her right hand toyed restlessly with the material of his black pants. "Try not to murder anyone today. Do you think you can do that?"
There was no mistaking the danger inherent in the way he grinned. It was visible in the set of his shoulders and the gleam in his eyes. "Sorry, baby, you lost me in the first half."
Vicious called her an Uber to drop her off at home because they were still trying to keep a distance from each other in public. With one last kiss goodbye, she left his house, already feeling his absence. Throughout the drive back home, she couldn't stop smiling.
When she was dropped off, Nova walked up to her doorstep and fished her keys out of her bag to unlock the door.
She dropped her keys and whirled around. Two people—a man and a woman dressed in black suits were standing behind her.
Nova bent down to pick her keys up as she tried to calm her heart that was racing wildly. "Yes, can I help you?" she asked with a polite smile. Inside, she was freaking out.
It was the woman who lifted her badge for Nova to see. It was like a punch to the throat when she realized who they were. FBI. There was only one reason for it. Damn Ben. He must have had a hand in this, but he was too much of a coward to face her himself.
"We will need you to come down with us to answer a few questions."