Weekends were Nova's favorite. Not because she had those days to herself, but because she got to spend time at her friend's house. She met Jessica Dane when Jess moved into the neighborhood from Seattle three years ago. She had run away from her abusive boyfriend and found comfort in Portland.
Jess was a teacher who lived with her five-year-old daughter, Mal. Mal's father wasn't in the picture, and Nova never asked her what had happened between them because it seemed to be a sore topic for Jess.
Anyone who looked at Jess would give her another glance. She was petite and cute with large blue eyes, beautiful features, dimples to kill for and shiny, dark hair. She was gorgeous and looked like one of those women whose face would stay young, leaving the rest of us old and wrinkly.
"You're looking better," Jess said as she chopped green peppers onto a cutting board and used the knife to wipe them into a bowl and started on the onions.
Nova ignored the smothered laugh that came from her friend. Her brows arched upward and her hands drawing patterns on the island, she murmured, "Compared to when?"
"You know what I'm talking about." Jess eyed her with an all-knowing smile. "You were a bit distant and jumpy. I thought you were doing drugs." She rinsed a tomato under a tap.
Nova laughed. "Where will I even get drugs from?"
"I don't know. Where do people get drugs?" Shaking her head at Nova, a mixture of amusement and earnestness in her voice, she ended, "But seriously, I'm glad you're better now. Was it a guy?"
She watched her opened the refrigerator. "Well..."
"So it was a guy!" Jess looked back at her with raised eyebrows, as though she could not believe the evidence of her own ears that Nova had started seeing someone without telling her. "Who was it? Is he your boyfriend? How come you didn't tell me about him?!"
"He isn't my boyfriend," Nova corrected, giving the impression that as far as she was concerned, the last thing she would ever do was date Ghost. It was an upsetting thought. "Trust me, he isn't the sort of person you can date." Or be friends with.
"So, one night stand?" she asked, a look of deep interest on her face.
she shrugged. "Not really." Irrationally, Nova felt even more annoyed. She didn't get what Ghost was to her but giving it a name was too intimate. And she wanted to feel justified in disliking him because he had done nothing to make her like him. "It's hard to explain." She drummed her fingers on the island.
"Are you still together?"
"Noooo. We have to have been dating to be together, Jess. But he's completely out of the picture now."
Jess continued to cut the vegetables without looking up. "I don't know why you're so scared to date anyone."
Nova was genuinely unable to answer the question for herself, though she had been asking it for a few months now. She added with a sigh, "I've had worst experiences with men, but I'm still willing to give dating a shot. Although, every time I meet someone and I tell them about Mal, they don't call again."
"Men can be dicks."
"They're just scared because they aren't ready for that kind of responsibility, I guess. I had Mal when I was nineteen. I didn't think I would keep her, but I'm glad my parents supported me in raising her. I wouldn't have forgiven myself if I had given her away."
Jess was a good person, and so was Mal. She had the smartest kid Nova had ever seen. Mal liked everything; she was an adventurous kid who loved exploring new things and learning about things most kids were not interested in knowing. Unfortunately, she wasn't popular in her class.
"How's everything at school?"
"She still won't say anything," Jess admitted, arrested by a sudden thought. "I'm scared to ask and I'm scared not to ask."
A frown creased Nova's forehead as she asked, "Did you talk to the principal?"
"Yeah, I did. He said he's going to find the kids that are bullying her and have a talk with them."
"I call bullshit," Nova began seriously, only to stop abruptly when she saw the amusement dancing in Jess' eyes and she was quick to explain, "It's not like he's going to do anything about it. What are you going to do?"
"I know she's not going to tell me anything, but I will talk to her. Hopefully, she opens up to me," she replied in a dejected tone. "I just don't get why anyone would bully her."
Seeing the concern and anxiety in her friend's eyes, Nova reached out and grasped her hand. "Everything will get better, Jess. I've never seen someone as strong as Mal. She doesn't let the bullying stop her from being happy."
Mal bounced into the kitchen, holding her doll. She was obviously Jess' daughter, even down to the brightness of her vivid blue eyes and her curly black hair. "Is the food ready, mummy?" she asked, as she came to stand in front of her mum.
"Not yet, sweetie."
Mal nodded and took a slice of tomato before she glanced at Nova. "Nova, are you having a party at your house?"
"What do you mean, honey?" Nova inquired with a frown. She had never thrown a party in her house, and she certainly wouldn't throw a party at three in the afternoon.
"I just saw a lot of people in your house through the window." She glanced at Jess. "Can we go to the party too, mummy?"
Jess stopped cutting and looked at her with a questioning look. "Nova?"
Nova returned her gaze with a confused look. "I'm not having anything," she managed to get out in a strangled tone. A terrifying thought that almost rendered her breathless crossed her mind, and she was slipping out of the stool before she knew it. Please, don't let Grant be dead.
"Wait, I'm coming with you! You can't go alone."
Nova whirled around and held a hand out to stop her. "No! You stay right here with Mal. It's...it's probably nothing. I will call you."
Jess didn't look like she wanted to stay put. "Nova..."
She gave her a pleading and desperate look. "I swear I will call you. It's probably something I have forgotten. Stay here, Jess." Whatever that was going on in her house, she had to know first before she lets Jess come with her. Call it an instant.
There were two black cars packed outside Nova's house. From two houses down across the street, she could see three men standing on her porch; two were sitting on the chairs and the other was standing near the door, smoking. Nova started to walk in a hurry to get to her house.
The men were all wearing black clothes and had tattoos, and chains around their necks. Two of them had their heads shaved and the other had piercings on his face. She almost didn't walk up to them, but this was her house and she didn't know them.
"Excuse me? Who are you people, and what are you doing in my house?" she demanded with a firm voice, but all they did was ignored her and continued to talk to each other. Her lips tightened as she tried not to start shouting because all she wanted to do was scream at them.
Before she could ask them again, someone walked out of the house and left the door open. He stared straight into Nova's face as he walked past her, but not before blowing his joint in her face, and she started to choke on the smoke, waving her hands around her face to try and get the smoke away from her. With watering eyes, she stormed into her house with grinding teeth and heat flushing through her body.
She came to an abrupt halt in the living room. But it was not Ghost slouching on her armchair, or how he filled a room that was upsetting or shocking. It wasn't even how long and hard she blinked as the feeling of heat flowed under her skin. It was the men he brought along; there were five of them inside and they didn't look friendly. They looked like the same men sitting outside her porch, and there was a trail of blood all the way to the couch, where two guys were covered in blood as they put pressure on their stomach and arm.
One of the men in dark clothes rose up to his feet and carefully started to make his way towards her. He was tall, and there was a skull and some black roses on his neck, and some kind of writing above his eyebrows. His hands were tattooed as well, of symbols and writings as well. His dark hair was cropped short at the sides, a little longer on top and a shadow of stubble played around his chin and jaw.
He stopped in front of Nova, his eyes brown and intense that he used to survey her from head to toe, and she caught sight of his pierced ears and eyebrow. "So, this is the bitch that thought it was smart to send a picture of you unconscious," he growled low, his breath falling on her face. "Took you a little while to get here."
Nova grounded her teeth together and glared at him. But she doesn't acknowledge him yet, but silently glanced around him. The culprit had his head leaned back as he pinched a cigarette between his fingers and brought it to his lips, inhaling before he blew it out slowly, letting it drift up instead of out, as it dissipated in the air above him.
"How do you keep getting in here?" She held his green eyes that were taunting and playing with her like they were in a game of cat and mouse, and it aggravated her more than anything.
He smirked. "Can you believe I have a key?"
"You have a key to my house?!"
"That's the least bit of your worries, muneca." He let his joint fall to the ground before he stomped his boot on it. Nova didn't know what that word was, but she hated it as much as she hated the sound of his voice. It was soft and seducing, and she didn't know if that was his real voice or not."
"Do you have what you need to help them?"
Once again and deliberately, she ignored the other man. "I need you to hand over the key to me now." All she wanted to do was give him the finger and tell him to go back to the hellhole he came from. But that was a luxury she couldn't afford, not if she wanted to take back the key he claimed to have. And if he gave her the key or not, she was still going to have the locks changed.
"If she ignores my fucking question again and acts like I'm not here, I'm not going to be held responsible for what comes next." He continued to stare down at her, his entire face hard and frozen.
"Calm down, Mario," Ghost replied with amusement. "You can't shoot the doctor. We need her." He looked at her and added slowly, filling each word with meaning as if talking to a child. "You hear that? We need your help to save these good men." He jerked his head to the injured guys on her couch.
Nova refused to look at the men Ghost was talking about so that she wouldn't feel any guilt or pity when she denied them her services, and she wanted to laugh for calling them good men. She was sure good and Ghost's friends didn't go with each other.
She crossed her arms. "I told you, I'm not doing this anymore," she replied flatly, sounding not the least bit sorry or bothered. It wasn't because she was heartless, but it was because she was scared of helping Ghost again and falling right back to where they started.
"No, you told me you weren't helping me again. Two different things. Maybe be more specific next time," he said, waving his gun in her direction, flashing a dashing half-smile.
Was it a threat to flash his gun to her? Would he continue to use it to overpower her? To make her do what he wanted? But one thing she was sure was Ghost would never shoot her. He would never shoot her when he needed her to help him. She was the only who could help him, and if that wasn't the case, he would have gone to the hospital. But he didn't because he knew what that would cause him. That enough gave her the strength to shake her head.
"If she doesn't want to do it," Mario remarked between his teeth. "I have several ways to make her. Is that what you want? For this to get hard?"
On the other hand, she wasn't sure about Ghost's cousin. He had violence written all over his face, and he might not think she was the better option so he could easily do whatever he wanted. And really, she also didn't think Ghost would be of much help. They weren't exactly friends or anything for him to stop his cousin from killing her.
She glued her teeth together, air pouring in and out of her nose as she tensed every muscle in her body, trying not to let herself be intimidated by Mario's threat. "What I want is for you people to get the hell out of my house and never come back again."
The first time Mario smiled at her, she felt a tight knot in her stomach. "So the hard way, then? Fucking lovely." And he proceeded to shorten their distance and wrapped his hand around her wrist in a firm grip.
"What are you doing?!" she exclaimed in terror when Mario began to pull her with him. "Let me go!" Instead of taking her to her room to kill her as Nova had expected, Mario released his hold on her in front of his injured friends.
He got a gun out of his back pocket and reloaded it, crossing his arms in front of him as he stared at Nova with no traces of amusement. "Sit." When she doesn't move to sit, his eyes narrowed. "I said sit." He darted out, wrapping his hand around the back of her neck and pushing her into the couch. She whimpered, feeling the burn in her scalp from his fingers fisting in her hair.
"I would do what he says." Ghost grinned and slipped his bottom lip between his sharp teeth sensually, but his dark gaze was angry and annoyed. "And really, muneca, you wouldn't want me involved. Don't want things to get ugly real quick."
"See this? You know what this is?" Mario waved his gun in the air as she shifted in fear and too afraid to do anything. "I have only one bullet inside. For every time you hesitate," He pointed it straight at her face. "I'll pull the trigger and see what happens."
"You're sick." Her chest rose and fell, fury boiling under her skin and threatening to go off on them. "You can't force someone to do what they don't want to do. That's not how life works." A guy dropped her kit on her lap and moved away from her.
Mario sat on the coffee table that was directly in front of her, still aiming his gold gun at Nova. "Boo-fucking-hoo. You can jump off the roof when you're done."
She painted him with a hateful glare. "I wasn't talking to you, asshole," she hissed, hating every inch of his face and hating Ghost even more. She stole a glance at the man typing away on his phone, all so casually and indifferent while his cousin pointed a gun at her like it was nothing. Who the hell did they think they were? Would it be that easy for them to shoot her just because she had refused to help them?
"Don't shoot the doctor, cousin," Ghost warned, and it was then she noticed the fury on Mario's face, which she didn't care at all. "Go outside and take a deep breath before you get us into a mess. Don't want to remind you what happened last time."
She finally grabbed the kit and opened it, knowing she didn't have any choice but to do what they asked. The sooner she did, the chance of her getting out alive. "Yeah, run along and do what master says. That's what loyal dogs do anyway." Probably wasn't a good idea to provoke Ghost's cousin, but what did she have besides her mouth?
"You fucking bit—"
The blazing anger and murderous look on Mario's face was evident, although he had no choice but to get up from the coffee table and stalked out of the house, and Nova now knew who the boss of him was. It was quite funny. She didn't think Mario was the type of man who submitted to anyone.
"You know, you shouldn't provoke Mario. He isn't all bark and no bite."
"And I want you out of my life, but I guess we can't always get what we want." The words doused out of her mouth before she even knew what she was doing. Thankfully, Ghost chose not to comment on it. He let her finish stitching the guy who had been stabbed in the stomach. The guy didn't even thank her but nodded at Ghost right before he left the living room, leaving just her, the second injured guy and Ghost.
"Well, that wasn't so bad, was it, my little doctor?" Ghost taunted with a smirk. "You're saving lives. Least you should do is put a smile on that beautiful face while you're doing it. Happy doctor, happy patient."
"Choose any day and time," His green gaze roamed all over her body, the tip of his tongue performing a lewd little lick over his lips. "and I'll be available to you."
All of a sudden, her mouth went sandpaper dry, and cold sweat pooled at her nape. She couldn't believe he would say that to her just after threatening her and letting his cousin threaten her. Did he think this was okay? That he could threaten her and then hit on her? What normal person does that?
"What...what kind of job do you have that gets you stabbed and shot?" She swallowed under his scrutiny, but now that she was going, there was no stopping. "There are decent jobs with a decent pay out there."
It wasn't any of her business what he did, but it kinda was. She was in this situation because of that. Helping a criminal whose name she didn't know, and even though he never asked hers, something told her that Ghost knew her name but chose not to use it.
"Like waitressing?" The mockery in his laughter infuriated her. "Nah. Pass. I like the blood, the running, and the chasing. I like my guns and knives. I ain't trading that to wait around people all day." He smiled, just a tiny, little, lift on the corner of his mouth but enough to disconcert her.
"No, you would rather do something that puts you in prison. What are you?"
Her eyes looked away from the wound she was treating and fixed Ghost with an eye roll. "No shit. I mean, what kind of a criminal?" she wondered what she had never spoken out loud until now. What is Ghost's job? What does he do?
His voice was soft and sultry. "The bad kind." There was a very strong indication in his tone and in his conceited demeanor that he did all sorts of bad things that had nothing to do with what she asked. His eyes glistened with mischief as she ignored the flush that colored her cheeks. Ugh.
"Is there a good kind?"
"I don't know, but there's a bad me, and it's itching to come out if you continue with your 24 questions."
Nova almost stumbled against the cold hardness in his eyes. "Or what? You would end up killing me?"
"I won't waste bullets, and I definitely ain't gonna waste it on you," he assured.
"Or maybe you just don't want me dead because you need me," she said meekly, looking away from his intense gaze. But she still felt his eyes on her, watching her, drinking her in, reading her. She finally finished stitching the last guy as he rudely went up on his feet and headed out of the house, while Nova started to pack her kit.
She heard Ghost's chuckle. "I need you? Tell me how you precisely came to that conclusion," he drawled, his tone full of amusement and something else. "That I need you?"
If Ghost was going to pretend as if she didn't just help him because he needed it, she was not going to humor him on the topic. Instead, she grabbed her kit and started to walk to the guest bathroom to keep it there, and his footsteps followed her.
Ghost grabbed her shoulder and turned her around, planting his arm around her waist as he pulled her flushed against him. Nova's heart slammed into her chest as she stared into his eyes, his thighs pressing against hers. His breath skated on her neck, hot and wanting and deliriously fresh, all glinting eyes and primitive male aggression.
His head dived and he covered her mouth with the kind of deeply sensual kiss that was hot and savage. He cradled her jaw, not harming, but forcing her mouth open just enough so he could put his tongue inside. She was instantly electrified, fierce heat pouring a hot pleasure right down her front, and when he pulled her even tighter up against him, she was kissing him back as she had never kissed anyone with a wild, deep, urgent hunger that took her over completely.
The kiss broke and the hand on her neck lingered. The lick of the lips followed by the wild, flash in his eyes as he gave her his half-smile as disarming as his drawl. "I was right. You do taste good." Before he lets go of her and turned around to walk away, and the only sound that rang through the house was Ghost's proud and mocking whistle before it died down.
And she slumped against the wall.