Nova turned in for her shift.
The first few hours of her shift were busy as most of their regulars kept them busy at that time. Her co-worker, Carla, paused beside her and nudged her with her elbow to get her attention. Nova looked up from the coffee machine and followed her gaze across the dinner to find Vicious sliding into an empty table. He didn't look over at her as he flipped the menu.
Carla thrust her a coffee pot along with a mug before Nova approached his table and stopped a few feet away. Vicious flipped the menu closed and stared up at her, his mouth splitting into a sexy grin as he ran his hand down the front of his leather jacket. Nova immediately noticed the odd energy surrounding him. He looked distressed and fidgety. He didn't need to tell her that. She had spent time with him to know when something was bugging him. She recognized the signs in his behaviour; the tension in his shoulders, in his jaw, and the way he played with his rings.
Smiling, she poured coffee into his mug and slid into the booth across from him. She didn't even care that her boss would frown when he sees her. Leaning forward with her stomach pressed against the table, her hand touched his hair as she ruffled it softly.
"What's the matter, baby?" she cooed, then leaned back against her seat.
Vicious raked his fingers through his hair to fix where she had ruffled before clasping his hands tightly together. "I wanted to come to see you. How's work?"
Nova didn't believe he just came for that. He was trying to put off what was really bothering him. "I don't believe you came over here to ask me that when you could have called or texted. What's really going on, Vic? Got any news about Screw?" It had been a week now, but they were still looking. Still trying to find answers. Vicious had kept himself busy, and Nova couldn't see him all the time. She felt put off, but that was what she got for wanting her brother avenged. She knew she couldn't make both men happy.
"I just wanted to see you," he repeated his words, and she frowned. When he added, she got increasingly nervous. "Okay." He sighed and lowered his head before meeting her eyes. "I have to meet someone and I'm not sure how it's going to end." Now he brought the mug to his lips and took a sip, watching her reaction.
She blinked, confused for a moment. "Then, why do you have to go at all, or do you need me to tag along and hold your hand?" She smiled when he chuckled, finding it amusing.
"Don't worry about it."
She smiled, but the way her eyebrows arched revealed her uncertainty. "Are you sure? Because I could have someone cover my shift. I miss going to meetings with you. I kind of feel empowered every time we do something like this. Don't laugh at me."
"I'm not," he said, but he was still chuckling. "And as for the meeting, you have your work, remember? I can't pull you from it just because you feel like I need support. I'm worried about a completely different thing. I'm worried about the results."
He was hiding something from her, and that was scary. Nova didn't want to push, but she felt like she should. Part of being with each other meant they could rely on one another and share each other's worries and fears. Although, she had not been great in either. However, she still wanted to be here for him.
She cocked her head, smiling. "Hm?"
"How deep are your feelings for me?"
It made her laugh, his question, which she wondered how many times he wanted to hear her talk about her feelings for him. Did he doubt it? Was he scared to lose her so he needed her assurance? But she would still tell him. Nova clutched his hand in hers to assure him. "Very deep."
"Enough that you can't live without me?" Vicious questioned again, his eyes on their interlocked hands.
"Yes. What about you?"
Now he looked up, staring at her square in the eyes when he answered with, "I love you enough that if I can't have you, I will kill you." The words were delivered softly, but she felt chills creeping through her skin. His eyes blazed with a devilish fire.
"I know you're joking, but I'm still wondering. Why would you kill me?"
There was no beat when he continued, gripping her hand. "Because I can't picture you out there living your life without me in it. I would rather put you down and endure all that pain and guilt for the rest of my life than allow you to slip through my fingers and get another chance of happiness."
Her heart skipped. "But isn't that what love is?" she asked cuttingly, gulping her breaths, one inhale after the other. "You want the best for them. You would want them to be happy, even if it's not with you. It gives you peace knowing they're at least happy."
Vicious didn't agree with her statement, so he aimed to squash it, poking at what jolted her heart again. "Even if they deserve it?" he wondered, peering at her through a mask of indifference. Finally, he added while maintaining a cool posture, "Even if they deserve to be put down?"
Time temporarily stopped for her. His questions hit her like a brick in the face. The cogs inside her head twisted and turned as her lips parted, trying to find the right words to say. All she did was stare at him, her eyes wary. She didn't want to think. She didn't want to second guess, but right now, Nova felt the words were for her. Knowing who she was, she knew she earned the right to be put down, but Vicious didn't know that.
Her nose twitched and her lips trembled. "I don't think murder solves anything," Nova replied shakingly. She hated herself when she said her next words. "but, Vicious, I would never do anything to deserve being killed by you, and even if I do, I will let you put a bullet through me." Because she knew it was a lie, but she had to lie now. She had to lie to live another day to avenge her brother, even if the man she was promising not to betray was the man she was going to end up betraying.
She had lived with the knowledge that he would hurt, that not even his feelings were going to protect her from him. She admitted to herself, with disheartening grief, that their feelings were not strong enough to change their minds. Her feelings were strong, but not strong enough to stop herself from her goal. Vicious' feelings wouldn't be strong enough to stop himself from killing her.
Which was why Nova was going to enjoy these moments she had with him. These small moments she would never regret.
"Don't say that," he said.
"Because I'm crazy enough to follow through with your words."
Silence thickened after his words died in the air. Her chest collapsed, but she still held a tight grip on it. "And I'm not crazy enough to do anything that might hurt you, or risk our future together," she told him, silently questioning whether she was playing the part of the trustful girlfriend good or bad.
Vicious observed her. Every little movement, and her heart sped. "I don't know if there's a future..." he trailed off, looking a little unnerved. "What if something happens? What if I'm gunned down or sent to prison? There's no future." He was repeating the words he had said before, but his tone sounded different when he said it this time. There were no emotions put into it.
"Why are you suddenly saying this?" Her stomach felt hollow, her voice bouncing inside it. "It won't happen. Stop thinking about it. Stop saying it."
"That upsets you?" He cocked his head, and her eyes dipped to the little smirk at the corner of his mouth that she found very odd.
"Vic, you're suddenly scaring me. You came here without texting me, and you're talking about dying and prison...do you know how that looks? I don't want to let you walk into that meeting alone. I will call Mario and—"
"You don't have to," he interrupted, jerking his chin towards the window. "He's sitting in the car right now waiting for me."
That puzzled Nova, but she felt calm and relieved that he had someone with him. "You got him to wait for you? Seriously..." Her attention drifted to Carla, who had yelled out her name and tapped her watch, signalling for her to get back to work. With a sigh, Nova looked back at him. "Please, be careful. If Mario wants to do stupid things, let him do it. Every day you are out there, I'm scared for you." Her hand closed over his. "Be alive for me."
Vicious chuckled, scanning her face. "Don't worry, I may have exaggerated about the meeting a little. I wanted to see if you really care about me like you said you do."
She rolled her eyes, rising to her feet. "And?"
He shrugged. "Maybe you care."
Again, she rolled her eyes. "Are you sure it's not a dangerous meeting? Nothing bad will happen, right?"
"If it makes you feel any better, I'm meeting the guy in public, and you know we ain't doing stupid shit with civilians around." Nova went to him, and he snaked his arm around her waist, tugging her to him, holding her impossibly close. "When we come back, we might pop the champagne."
"Why? What would we be celebrating? Has more money started flowing in?"
He actually laughed at that. Cocking his head back and sideways, he lifted his hand and brought it to her face, gently caressing her cheeks. "Nah, even better, muneca. Someone managed to take a picture of Batman, so I would finally know what my enemy looks like. Ain't that great?"
Her smile froze, but it wasn't the only thing that froze. Nova looked down at his grinning face, her hands trembling. "You're meeting someone who has a picture of Batman? And he plans to give you the picture?" she made sure to ask carefully, but in reality, she was being careful because her words were trembling and her voice was croaking.
"Yeah, so I'm finally getting some good news." He turned his hand over to look at his watch. "I gotta go if I want to make that meeting." Vicious fisted her hair and planted a rough kiss on her mouth. "Get off work early so we could celebrate with everyone." His eyes locked on hers, and his fingers entangling in her hair, he frowned. "What's wrong?"
"Oh, nothing," she rushed out, feeling delirious. Her voice was still croaky. "I need to get back to work before you get me fired." She untangled herself from him, stepping back. "Hurry up and go. I will see you later." She rushed to get away, and instead of going back behind the counter, Nova pushed through the employee's room and stumbled inside.
She was already dialling Keenan's number before she could rush out of her uniform to her normal clothes. He picked up at the first ring.
"Listen to me," she rushed out before he could say anything. "I need you to dispatch your men right now and track my location. Keenan, do it fast and don't waste time. I will text you the details in the car. Go now!" She ended the call before he ever had the chance to say something.
When Nova rushed out and met with Carla, she didn't explain anything. She only told her she had a family emergency and begged her to cover her shift. Another person she didn't wait to hear an answer from before she was rushing out of the diner. Vicious' car was already pulling out of the lot when Nova rushed to Carla's car, yanked the door open and got inside. She started the engine and stepped on the accelerator.
She kept three cars between them, dialling Keenan's number again. When he picked up, she heard car honks from the speaker, signalling that he was already on the road. Nova didn't waste time telling him what Vicious told her.
"Shit," Keenan cursed, and she heard him hitting the steering wheel. "Where is he now?"
"I'm tailing after him, but I can't do anything when he gets there," she said, keeping a watchful eye on Vicious' car. He wasn't speeding, so it was hardly easy to lose his car. "I don't know what the guy he's meeting looks like so that's going to be a problem."
"We just have to wait and see who he meets."
"Keenan, that would expose you too much."
"We don't have a choice," he returned firmly. "If this guy has a picture, it's a problem. We don't know if it's yours or mine, so we can't take any chances. If we can't identify the man before he meets Vicious, then we only have one option left."
Her heart thundered and she gripped the wheel tightly. She didn't like this. She didn't like it one bit.
"Don't worry," he told her as if he knew what was going through her mind. As if he could feel how fast her heart was beating. "our men understand the risk."
If they couldn't identify the man Vicious was going to meet and take the picture from him before it could ever reach him, then their men had to face him. And if they faced him while he was meeting Vicious, there was a chance they were either getting caught by security or getting captured by Vicious. Both options were not the options Nova had hoped for, but there was no other choice. For hers and Keenan's sake.
Vicious' car slowed down and parked in front of a barbershop. Nova quickly parked on the street as well but kept some distance between them. The boys remained in the car, and she wondered if they were ever going to get out. Her eyes were still pinned on their car. Ten minutes later, they were still inside the car. Keenan had called her and told her he had arrived with his men. Although, they were hidden from Vicious' line of sight.
Another five minutes in and it looked like the man wasn't going to show up, and neither was Vicious and Mario leaving their cars. Before the thought had finished passing through her mind, she saw a man in a green hoodie walking down the street. She arched a little, trying to check him over and see if he was the right man. When she noticed an envelope in his right hand while his left hand remained in his pocket, she got into action and dialled Keenan.
Nova could only watch them from the window. The moment she saw four of Keenan's men walking behind the man, who started walking fast when he realized he was being followed. She was anxious. Vicious was yet to notice the man, and she wanted it to stay like that. Her men were only going to grab the man before he could reach Vicious' car.
One second they were about to grab him, and the next thing, the man was pulling out his left hand from his pocket. In that hand, he held a gun, which he started to shoot. Nova startled as she heard the gunshots. Two of Keenan's men had been gunned down faster than any one of them could react. The gunshot attracted more of Keenan's men, who sprang into action. Another two were put down.
Vicious' door opened, and someone came out from it, but it wasn't Vicious. Another man walked out of the same car, and it wasn't Mario either. What the hell was going on? They sprang into action, spraying bullets from their own guns. Nova remained seated in shock, mouth parted open and heart put to a stop, she watched the scene before her.
Where was Vicious? Where was Mario?
Those questions made her delirious, made her question everything because she didn't understand what was happening. But it didn't matter, she told herself. She had to get that envelope. If their men couldn't do it, she had to be the one to do it.
Nova started the engine of her car, tightening her fingers over the wheel. She grabbed a hoodie she found on the passenger's seat and put it on, pulling the hood over her face. Then she searched the compartment of the car and found a black face mask. She wore that and looked at herself through the rearview mirror. She didn't look recognizable. She didn't look like herself.
Then she was stepping on the accelerator, speeding towards the man with the envelope. He was still shooting at her men, but Nova didn't take her feet off the accelerator. Instead, she stepped more on it and sped towards him. Her heart was beating so fast, but she had to do it. She had to do it. She had to keep her identity safe. It was the only way.
The only way.
She didn't stop. The man didn't see her coming until it was too late. At that moment when his eyes connected to hers, Nova was already running him over with her car. She heard the impact, heard him rolling over the bonnet, the windshield, and then over the top before rolling to the ground. She stepped on the break, sweating, and breathing so hard she felt like she actually wasn't. But there was no time to think yet. She was stepping out of the car, running towards the man she had run over, whose blood tainted the ground.
Not even a glance at the body, she picked up the envelope and quickly rushed back to her car, hearing the bullets ringing out. The car engine was still running, so all Nova had to do was step on the accelerator and start to speed down the road, but she was forced to step on her brakes when a car swivelled in front of her.
Stepping on the breaks had her slamming forward. With her engine still running, Nova took a couple of seconds to gather her breathing, even though her heart was still hammering in her chest, and when she looked up, she saw him.
Behind the wheels.
Staring straight at her.
Every nerve in Nova's body reacted as her eyes widened in shock. She was momentarily paralyzed for a few seconds, watching him watch her. Watching the cold and deadly glance. Her fingers wrapped around her wheels tightly. They shook and trembled under the gaze of the cold and vicious man that everyone had talked about.
She tried to calm herself down.
He doesn't know it's me.
He doesn't know it's me.
He doesn't know it's me.
The roar of her revving engine came to life as she stepped on the accelerator to back up, turning her head and shoulders to look around before she changed gear, reversing the car and turning the wheel to the left before she set off at excessive speed. Through her rearview mirror, Vicious was behind her, speeding as much as she was. Another jolt went through her heart. She pressed her foot on the accelerator with more pressure, trying to get away from him, but Vicious was a good driver. She wasn't.
She needed to get away. She couldn't let him catch her. If he did........
Nova did her best to keep the wheel steady, even though her hands were shaking. Her eyes both on the road and on the mirror, she turned left and sped off. Vicious was right on her tail, matching the same speed. He tried to drive past her so he could block her, but she rammed her car into his, trying to push him off the road. She could feel the adrenaline rushing through her.
Vicious didn't budge. One glance at the rearview mirror confirmed that he was back, hot on her tail. They drove into a busy intersection. Cars blared their horns irately, but she never stopped. She sped down the highway at speed, and he followed relentlessly, speeding up to catch her. They crossed busy intersections and ran stoplights, and Nova was frantically trying to figure out where to go or what to do. Her train of thought was interrupted when they reached another intersection and a black van from another direction sped in between them and stepped on the brakes, blocking Vicious' car.
Through the mirror, Nova could see Vicious furiously walking out of his car to the black van. It was the last thing she saw before she sped away.
Nova had to circle to make sure no one had followed her before she went back to work to drop off the car, then took an Uber back home. As she stumbled inside the safe comfort of her home, she ran into the bathroom and took off the hoodie and mask, then removed all her clothes and jumped into the show.
In the shower, all she could do was sit on the tile while the shower head sprayed water all over her body. Her arms were wrapped around her legs, hugging them. She couldn't stop shaking and couldn't stop thinking about Vicious. How close he came to catching her. How close her identity came to being discovered.
How close she came to losing him.
Nova rested her head on her knees while the water continued to drop on her. It was after some minutes that she turned off the shower, then stepped out after wrapping a towel around her body. When she stood in front of the mirror, she wiped the fog off it before facing herself. The first thing she noticed was the bruise on her forehead. It looked red, but there was no spot of blood. She touched it and it hurt, then dropped her hand to her side.
She stared at her eyes, felt herself trembling despite being home and safe. When she closed her eyes, she could see him looking down at her with determination, with anger. She could hear the moment his fingers would click on the trigger. It brought tears to her eyes. It made her heart ache with so much pain that she had to clutch her chest.
Her phone rang in the bedroom. Nova walked out of the bathroom and picked up the call.
"Are you okay?" Keenan rushed out to say, exhaling so much breath.
She closed her eyes and breathed out slowly, replaying the events in her mind. "I'm fine. Where are you?"
"At the safe house. Shit, Nova, what the fuck happened?"
"I don't know...." she trailed off, exhausted, and confused.
"And the envelope?" he prodded. "Did you get it?"
At the mention of the envelope, she picked it up from the bed and turned it over, scrunching it into a ball. "There was nothing inside," she told him, finally able to release the breath that had gotten stuck in her chest. "There was nothing inside, Keenan. It was empty."
There was a moment of silence between them, where he reeled her answer. She understood how he felt. Like her, she was also confused. Had the pictures been taken? Did it fall out? Was there any picture?
"They took it?" he asked after overcoming his shock.
"I don't know. I don't know anything. I'm just as confused as you are. I don't know how I was able to let Vicious fool me. I had the right car to follow, but I don't remember him getting out of it to switch to another car."
"What are you saying?"
"I got it wrong. Vicious never does things without having a backup. I went out and saw a car that I thought was his. Maybe he knew someone would follow him and he switched to another car. He's a gang leader....it's in their rights to be paranoid. What I don't understand is how the envelope is empty."
Keenan cleared his throat, seeming hesitant. "Nova, about—"
"Don't talk about that," she fired out, her hands starting to shake again. "I don't want to think about it. I know what I did and I would do it again. Like you said, a lot of shit will happen and I would be forced to make a tough decision, so yes, I don't want to think about it. I want to move on."
"Alright," he said, accepting her decision. "If the envelope is empty, does it mean Vicious already has it?"
"If he does, will I still be breathing?"
"There's no other reason to think it's your picture, Nova. There's a chance that he knows about me, not you. You operate in the shadows. I'm the face of your plans."
Nova felt a slight ache on her forehead. "You may be right, so be careful, Keenan. Stay low until I have figured out what's happening. I'm going to see Vicious, and if you're at risk, you need to get out of town," she told him directly. "Don't think about staying. I don't want to lose you too." Her voice cracked with tension and she welcomed a splitting headache.
"You can't do this alone."
"I'm not going to risk your life. Leave the first chance you get, you hear me?"
His sigh came through the speaker. "What about his guy? I can't leave town and leave him behind, and I can't let him go."
She pinched the bridge of her nose. "Just keep a few guys on him," she decided. "You don't have to stay. I will take care of things and make sure I'm not seen, but first, I have to see Vicious tonight." Her head was pounding with a headache, and she rubbed her temples with her thumbs to lessen it.
"Got it. Keep me updated."
As she ended the call, she sat at the edge of her bed and sighed. She drew in a deep breath before staring down at her phone again, her fingers hovering above Vicious' number. She decided against calling him. Nova didn't think she could handle hearing his voice. She couldn't talk to him. He would immediately know something was up, and he would try to dig.
So, she ended up texting him. It was a simple text, yet it depended on how things would move forward between them.
Are we still celebrating tonight? Should I bring champagne?
But there was no reply. The text had been delivered, but nothing was sent back to her. Nova paced back and forth in her room, staring at the phone in her hand, which she gripped tightly. She contemplated sending another text the more it remained unanswered.
She lay on the bed, then got up to start pacing again. That didn't work out. She sat on her stool, and that didn't bring peace to her mind either. She was rising again, changing position before she made up her mind to lay flat on the ground, staring up at the ceiling.
Her phone vibrated in her hand. Nova shot up, wildly staring at the text she had received. It wasn't Vicious, and her heart sank immediately.
It was Mario. Vic lost his phone. He wants you to meet him at his place.
The knot in her chest loosened, and the breath that had gotten stuck inside her released easily from her chest and out through her mouth. She read Mario's text over and over again before all the worries and fears were lifted off her.
She smiled and leapt, running to her closet to change into her clothes.
She was going to see Vicious. She was going to kiss him and hold him tight to her chest, and then she was going to make sure neither one of them would forget this night.