When she left the shop and took a cab back home, Grant called her.
The atmosphere in the cab hit strangulations level when Grant face appeared on her screen. "What the hell happened?" she choked out in dismay.
Sitting hunched over on a chair with a large bruise on his right eye and left cheek, he mumbled, "They were waiting for me when I got home."
"Who?" she spits out in anger and fear, her heart knocking against her chest. Grant looked so bad. He was holding an ice pack to his jaw, grimacing in pain every time he moved his face.
"The people I owe money to. I got back home and I was ambushed by four men. This was a gift from them—a reminder from their boss."
Nova pushed her hair back from her brow and drew in a breath. "Are you alright?" she asked, fighting to keep her voice level.
"Next time I won't be if they don't get their money." Spiky dark hair and vivid brown eyes shot through the screen with burning worry.
The tension in Nova buzzed. The realization that the next call she would get from her brother might be from the cops informing her that they had found his dead body. She didn't want to think about that. She didn't want her brother dead, no matter how much he was disappointing her. And the men that had beaten him were serious about their money. They weren't good people, and they didn't care about the length they would go to get their money back.
Wrapping her arm around her middle, Nova gave herself a minute to get hold of herself before she pressed quietly, "And what kind of men are they, Grant? I need to know who we are dealing with."
"You're not going to like it."
She had bet that she wasn't. Nova hated mixing with the wrong people. She was scared of them. Of what they were capable of. Obviously, Grant couldn't keep himself out of trouble. She wasn't blaming him. She was blaming the friends he had made through the years.
"They're part of a gang, okay? They deal in drugs, fake money, and extortion. They're bad, Nova. They're really dangerous and they're capable of murder."
She took a sharp intake of breath. For a horrible second, Nova felt so light-headed she thought she was actually going to faint. She tried for breath but didn't quite make it. "Why...why did you take money from them? Why didn't you come to me if you wanted money?! And ten thousand dollars, Grant? What for? I know I don't make much as a waitress, but I do give you a share of my salary, don't I?" Her proudest achievement had been ensuring that Grant never took a loan from anyone, or resorted to robbery when he lost his job and couldn't get any. She felt responsible for him, that was why she tried to give him anything when he asked, so she wouldn't get a call that her brother had been arrested or killed in a robbery.
Grant looked away from the camera with a tightened jaw. "You didn't exactly make things easier. I stopped asking because I felt like you were tired of it, and you had to give me a long ass lecture about getting a job and depending on myself. You think I want to hear that again from my little sister?"
Tightening her arms across her body in an effort to crush the pangs of hurt she experienced at that totally unfair response, it took Nova a few seconds before she could dare let herself speak. "I was just trying to help you. There was no need for you to take it to heart. And now look what you've done." She felt tears brimmed her eyes. "I'm out here selling our family heirlooms, Grant. For you. Things we should have been cherishing, not selling for money. Those were priceless things."
"They are just objects, Nova," Grant groaned, pulling the ice pack away from his face. "I'm sure mum and dad would not want me dead if we could get the money from the fam."
She sucked in a painfully sharp breath. How could he say that? Did he care about anything other than himself? "Grant, I can't believe you would say that. You can't be so insensitive and selfish. They were worth more than what I got for it."
"So, you got the money?"
"Five thousand and two hundred dollars."
Grant appeared not to be happy about that. "Damn, that ain't enough, sis."
"Well, what are you doing on your end?" she fired with a glare.
"Getting beat up is enough," he choked out. "Look, I'm sorry, okay? I shouldn't have dumped my problems on you. I did a stupid thing, and now I'm sorry that I did—but you gotta help me out, sis. I have got a week left before they come back again. Why don't you get some money out from your bank account?"
"I'm not emptying my bank account for you," she hissed out in a low, disbelief voice, almost forgetting that she was still in a cab. Thank God she had her earphones on, or the cab driver would have heard everything.
"You're going to save my life. I think I'm more worth than what's in your bank account."
"You're kidding me with that, right?" Nova flared in response to that.
Biting out a curse, her brother lifted a hand and grabbed the back of his neck, glancing behind him. He twisted round to aim her a glancing look of remorse. "Look, I gotta go. Please, make sure you have the money. I'm sorry, Nova. I promise this will be the last time," he husked out painfully. "I won't ever disappoint you like this again. Just help me out."
Looking at him, Nova saw their father's hair and their mother's eyes and mouth. The aching urge to hate him almost got the better of her. But what would her hatred do besides pushing him deeper into the messed-up world she wanted to save him from? She wanted to believe he was telling the truth, but it was Grant. His lies and truths were the same things.
It was a little after seven when Nova got home. She turned the key in and walked inside the dark house, turning the lights on as she removed her shoes and dumped her bag on the couch, making her way to the kitchen.
If there was one thing that Nova didn't expect to see, it was definitely Ghost sitting on her stool in her kitchen, a box of cereal and a bowl in front of him. His feet were up on the island, and a glass in hand which looked to be filled with tequila that she had stored away in the kitchen cupboards for when she absolutely needed it. He looked much better than the last time she saw him. Ghost was a man that people would describe as drop-dead gorgeous without making any effort. Nova would have had to be immune to the whole male species to resist noticing the leashed power in his muscles as they flexed beneath the dark yellow of his shirt.
Ghost didn't ooze class or style. Everything about him was not polished and smooth.
She had never seen a man so unkempt, with three buttons on his shirt undone to reveal a narrowing V of his chest, and his hair was messy and all over the place.
He must have felt her presence or heard the front door opening because he looked over at her. Even the devilish smile he offered Nova set her unease as he remarked pleasantly, "Want a drink? I know I'm celebrating something, but I feel like you should join in. Clearly, we're both having a good day," he said, holding up his glass.
If it had been a good day, now it was gone, Nova thought.
And she wished she understood why she always suffered this itchy suspicion that he was taunting her whenever he spoke to her. He had been making her feel like this ever since the first time they had spoken. Even the way he was looking at her gave her the uncomfortable impression that he making fun of her and amused by it.
He was doing it now, holding her gaze with his emerald green eyes that pretended to be friendly, but really were not.
"What the hell are you doing here?" She looked from the mess he had made in her kitchen, to his feet that were still on her island before she growled lowly.
Ghost tipped the glass to his lips and drank from it, making sure to take his sweet time before he answered. "Thought I would let myself in. And you weren't here, so I figured I should wait for you." He raised a brow with a thoughtful look. "Also took your vodka. Went through your things—"
"You went through my things?!"
"I'm not sure if you're aware, but g-strings are in, granny panties are out." He continued to slouch in the chair, leisurely trailing one long thick finger up and down his glass, his gaze fastened on her as though he were imagining what it would be like to stroke that finger along her throat. It was an absurd thought, and she had no idea where it came from. She wasn't used to men looking at her as though they were contemplating doing wicked things with her. "Do you have a boyfriend?"
"That's it!" she screamed, her eyes flashing red. "Get out of my house now before I call the cops."
One side of his mouth curled up slowly into a mocking smile. "You sure do love to threaten me with that. Have you thought that maybe, just maybe I have a dirty cop working for me?"
That was something she didn't even consider or ever thought of. She couldn't even tell if he was telling the truth or not.
"What do you want from me?" As he raked his gaze over her, her stomach quivered, and she balled her hands into fists at her side to stop them from trembling.
Ghost shrugged. "I don't know. I'm not sure. I just love seeing you scared out of your mind. I get a rush inside me, you know?"
Nova glared at him. "You're sick, and I'm not scared of you." Lies. She was petrified of him. She didn't know him. She didn't know his name. She didn't know what he was capable of, but behind that wicked smile lies someone else; someone only him knew.
"Are you scared of this?" A gun appeared before her eyes, clutched against the hand of Ghost. He tilted his head and studied her reaction. "It's my best friend, my lover. The only thing that brings me pleasure. It goes wherever I go. We tight like that."
Nova's breath seized as her eyes widened. A gun. She had never seen a gun, and something told her Ghost wasn't a holding a toy gun, but a real one. It knocked her breath out, made her took a step back. She saw the triumph light in his eyes. He had wanted this; to inflict fear inside her and enjoy it.
The hairs on her nape and arms lifted as her limbs shook. "T...take that away."
"Why?" he asked, scratching his head with the gun as though it wasn't a dangerous weapon to hold. His eyes held a challenge that she couldn't mistake. Ghost moved the gun away from his head and slowly, ever so slowly, with a mischievous smile directed it inside his mouth, and her breath hitched.
She watched in horrified expression as he kept his finger on the trigger, the gun still inside his mouth as he wore the most shit-eating grin she had ever seen on anyone's face. She stood by her words; Ghost was a sick bastard.
He winked at her before she saw him pulled the trigger, and Nova reacted by shrieking and closing her eyes, covering her face with her hand. She didn't hear a gunshot sound. She should have heard a gunshot sound. He had pulled the trigger. They should have been a sound.
And there was.
Only a different sound. It was loud and obnoxious, a twisted laugh that enveloped the kitchen and descended in her ears. It took her three seconds before she dropped her hand down and cracked her eyes open. Ghost was hunched over, hitting the island with the same hand that was holding the gun as he continued to laugh.
Her face reddened as she grounded her teeth, pinning him with a frosty look.
He stopped laughing and straightened up, looking over at her. "That was good, muneca." He stood up and put the gun back in his pocket, stalking towards her. He stopped just short and looked her up and down. "I like you. You and I are going to have a lot of fun together."
She continued to glare at him, ignoring her racing heart at their close proximity. Heat radiated from him and it took everything in her not to lean in a little closer. Ghost swept his thumb over his bottom lip before reaching out to brush her hair out of her forehead.
"Yes," he said with a smirk. "A lot of fun."