~I love it when I hear you breathing, I hope to God you’re never leaving~ Melanie Martinez.
Chapter Theme Song: 'Tag, You’re It’ by Melanie Martinez.
“Riley loves Cheetos so much.” I chuckle, shaking my head while I slip the coin into the vending machine. “I mean, she will literally eat these over a homecooked meal any day.”
Ansel smiles as he glances around the hospital’s lobby, carefully observing our surroundings. “Reminds me so much of Alex. He has an unhealthy obsession with Doritos.”
I smile as I retrieve the snack, slipping in another coin then tapping the skittles option. I crouch to grab the item, noticing that Ansel is intently staring at a man who is sitting by the water dispenser. The anonymous guy is dressed in full black; his head is buried in his cell as he seems aloof from his surroundings.
My brows furrow questingly. “Everything okay?”
Ansel’s lips are pressed together while he nods. “Yeah…” He tears his eyes away, raking a hand through his hair. “It just doesn’t feel safe here.”
Twisting my lips, I scan our environment. A few people are sitting around reading magazines, nurses, and doctors are traversing to and from and I spot some kids playfully gliding along the slippery floor. I do not feel endangered, but Ansel’s gut is probably telling him otherwise.
“Let’s return upstairs then,” I tell him, and he agrees, leaning off the wall as he offers to carry the snacks. However, my bladder calls for release almost immediately and I slightly squirm as Ansel notices the action.
“I think I need to use the restroom.”
He scours the area then locates the bathroom section some distances away from us. “One’s over there, I’ll wait for you here, alright?”
I nod and hasten to the restroom. I quickly use the toilet then begin to wash my hands, smiling at a little girl whose mother is lifting her over the sink to use the pipe. It reminds me of how loving my mom once was before she divorced my dad. It is a sad pity that her love for me suddenly faded overnight.
The toddler and her parent leave the space and I wipe my hands with a piece of paper towel before following behind them. As soon as I step out onto the lobby, something cold compresses into my side. I stiffen in response, feeling the raspy breath of someone as they whisper into my ear.
“If you scream, I will kill you then your friends.”
I swallow sharply as my gaze drops to the metal weapon delving into my waist. My eyes travel to Ansel, who is speaking on his phone. His eyes are positioned in the opposite direction, thus making him oblivious to what is happening. I prefer it that way; I do not want him to get hurt.
“Come with me, and do not make a scene.”
Adrenaline courses through me as I oblige, allowing the man to guide me around the corner and in the opposite direction away from Ansel.
I try to catch a glimpse of my abductor’s face as he stealthily ushers me out of the hospital, but I am unable to do so since each time I shift my head he presses the gun harder into my body.
As soon as we embark onto the underground parking lot, I notice about four guys breaking out of the darkness as they approach us assertively.
“Who are these men?” The kidnapper questions and I raise my shoulders, genuinely ignorant.
One of the unknown guys points a gun to the head of the captor while another slithers in our path, his hand rested on the pistol tucked into his waist. Two other guys are standing behind as if to ensure nothing dirty goes down. They are all wearing jeans and jerseys and I use the distraction to quickly glance at the assailant who has me at gunpoint. His attire is a noticeable contrast as he is dressed professionally in a dark blue tuxedo.
The guy pointing the gun at the captor moves his eyes between me and the culprit in a reptilic motion. “Where are you taking her?”
“Mind your own business.” The captor orders darkly, before nudging me with the weapon as if to order me to keep walking. The gun is cold against my side and it painfully sinks into my skin as I take a step forward. However, the guy in jersey cocks his gun, halting my steps.
“I suggest you let her go. Or I’ll press this trigger and blow your fucking brains out.”
A sudden realization dawns on me that these men were probably friends of Alaric’s, sent to guard and protect us during our stay at Freetown.
“Who the hell are you guys?” The abductor demands, his expression not holding even an ounce of fear. My eyes scour the parking lot, noticing a black GMC van just some feet away and a few other vehicles parked around. No-one is present in the dark secluded space which would have made it quite easy for me to have been kidnapped if Alaric’s guys were not around.
“Our boss said to ensure she’s safe at all times and we will have problems with him if we do not comply. So, let her go or things will get messy.” One of the guys said, just before a loud honk grabs our attention as the window to the tinted van I had been observing, rolls down.
A man with low cut dark hair sitting in the back seat of the vehicle does a hand signal to the guy holding the gun at my waist and he immediately removes the weapon in obedience.
“Did Alaric send you boys?” The man in the vehicle begins to question the men in informal attire. They do not respond and instead stares at him with contempt. “I just need to speak with her, it won’t take long. I will not kidnap her or lay a finger on her. If you feel unsure you guys can stand there and keep an eye out, alright?”
“Why would we trust you, Ron Moretto?” One of Alaric’s men queries.
This Moretto man must be Kendra’s uncle. He is the only one who is out to get me right now.
He is just the person I want to see anyway. This will be the perfect opportunity to warn him to stay away from my best friend. The fury within me springs to life and I nod my head in agreement.
“I’ll hear what he has to say.”
One of Alaric’s men looks at me. “Are you sure? We got strict orders to—”
“It’s okay,” I assure him. “I have things to talk to him about anyway.”
He nods reluctantly then whispers something to one of the other guys who respond with a “Yes, Leo.” Then hastens over to a black SUV parked at the corner of the dim lot. He moves the vehicle and parks it right in front of Ron’s van, blocking it in.
“If you try to kidnap her you cannot leave the lot. Our car is now blocking yours so don’t try anything shady.” Leo makes clear.
Ron cackles sinisterly as he waves his hand dismissively. “Alright, Kid.” He nods to his man who prods me in my side and order that I move to the vehicle. He opens the door to the backseat, and I slide into the van, the leather seats rippling beneath my body.
I glance at the man beside me. His sharp, rigid jawline is the first thing that stands out then his strong whiff of cologne that hangs thickly in the air.
He looks about the late thirties, and despite wearing a classy suit which seems utterly expensive, his whole demeanor is somewhat domineering and scary which makes me wonder why he is so formally dressed for a drug dealer.
He fiddles with the silver skull ring on his finger then turns his face to look at me, his icy grey eyes boring through mines.
“Close the door.”
I narrow my eyes, and he jerks his head behind me, his jaws noticeably tight. “The air conditions are on.”
I reach out for the door, but Leo grabs the edge instantly, his face hardening as he glares at the eerie man beside me.
“Why does she need to close the door?”
“Relax, this will only take a minute, young man.” He makes clear. I give Leo a slight nod and after a few seconds of contemplating he settles to step away, closing the door unwillingly. The car is now quiet; all sounds from the outside completely cut off. I notice a man around the wheels, his focused fixated ahead as if any jerk of his head would earn him detrimental consequences.
“Moscow. Leave us.”
“Yes, sir.” He opens the door to the driver’s seat and immediately emerges from the vehicle, warm air from outside briefly flowing through the space before the door closes again. The windows are tinted, making the car appear somewhat dark as he turns his face to look at me.
“It’s nice to meet you, Rainey Slate. I’m Ron Moretto.” He extends his palm toward me and I look away, shifting in my seat. He retreats his offer with no trace of care.
“I know who you are. What I did to your niece, I do not regret it. I will not apologize either. If you want to kill me, do so and leave my best friend alone. What you did to her is really messed up and if you ever dare to—”
“I don’t want your friend, Rainey Slate.” He breathes, fixing his jacket onto his muscular built. I look at him with inquisition and anger as he turns his face to look at me.
“I want you.”
I blink my eyes in disgust. “What?”
“It’s nothing pedophilic. I need you under my wings,” he clarifies. “You put up quite a fight with my niece the other day…I like that. For a girl your size, you know how to handle yourself. I tend to take a special liking to females like you. Strong girls who have scars on their backs.”
I narrow my eyes. “You know nothing about me.”
“I know your parents are divorced. I know it gets quite lonely. If you join my camp and stay close to me, I will give you it all. Money…protection…you name it.”
“My Dad is a million-dollar CEO, so I don’t need your offering. I don’t know what the hell Kendra told you—”
“This is not about Kendra anymore. I know she deserved what you did to her.”
“What do you know?” I raise a brow.
He shrugs. “Have you forgotten? That night, I was the one who saved you from those two men. Imagine what would have happened if I had not shown up. It would have taken them nothing to assault you in the most gruesome way.”
I squint my eyes as my memory begins to get clearer. I did recall a man entering the room that night. The men had called him boss and Kendra had stated that her uncle was the owner of the club. That puts all the pieces together.
“Blood is indeed thicker than water, hence why I told her I would deal with you myself, but I think I like you. I don’t want to kill you when you can be of great…importance.”
“You are insane. Just stay away from my friend or I’ll have to go to extensive measures to fight back.” Molten anger rolls through me as I gesture for the door, but he speaks again, this time all the serenity is drained from his tone, replaced with an icy edge that stills the air.
“If you don’t take up my request, I may just have to go ahead with my first decision.”
I look at him.
“My initial plan was not to offer you a proposal, Rainey Slate. I was supposed to cut your pretty little throat but seeing as you have…the ‘looks’ and ability I’m looking for I reconsidered harming you. Join my camp, I promise you won’t regret it.”
“I won’t ever agree to your request. So, don’t waste your time.”
“Well, that decision will be putting both you and your friend in danger. How selfish.” He sighs. “I also see that you’re close with the King brothers. Ansel King…is he the brother that you like?”
I narrow my eyes. “What do you know about the King brothers?”
He sniggers. “We go a long way back, love. We are like a family. Well, we were.”
“I must say, you are quite lucky to have the King boys on your team…. they are quite a handful.” He chuckles wryly as if he knows something I do not. “Especially Ansel…he knows how to get his hands dirty. Out of all the brothers…he is the one people should fear the most. He’s my favorite.”
I grip the edge of my seat, keenly listening to his words. What does he mean by all that?
“You see, he’s the scariest of those brothers. I mean they all have that little cute smile and mysterious eyes…but what makes Ansel the scariest is…”
He meets my eyes now, a sinister smirk on his lips. “He knows how to convince someone that he’s a good guy.”
I stiffen, anxiety coiling in my stomach.
“He’s like a candy…all sugar-coated and sweet…but what it actually gives is cavities and diabetes. You think you know those brothers but trust me…you have no idea who they are.”
I swallow hard as my thoughts regress to that moment when Alex and Ansel tortured those men on Vincent’s Street. As if reading my mind, he continues.
“I know he and the youngest of them—Alex—beat my men up. I am surprised they didn’t kill them; those boys don’t hesitate. Hitler is one of my best men…and he’s now in jail, placed in a sticky dilemma because of those King boys. Just so you know, I will surely be repaying them for what they did. Which brings us back to our topic.”
He shifts to face me. “If you do not accept the proposal Rainey Slate, we will be back to where we started. I will kill you, then I’ll kill your friend Riley and then I’ll proceed to kill those King boys and their whole family.”
I glare at him. “I will never agree to—”
“One month. I am giving you one month. After that time, I will be back for your answer, and it will determine where you stand. Do not think of running away because I will find you, Rainey Slate. Have a good day.” He gestures to the door as an indication for me to go.
I tear angry eyes away from him and reach for the handle, stopping immediately when his deep voice sounds again.
“By the way…tell Ansel I am still sorry about Lea.” There is a slight mockery in his tone. “I didn’t think he’d fall for her. My bad.”
I look at him in wonderment as he pulls his cell from his pocket, tapping a few times before pressing it to his ear. “Let’s go.”
Moscow enters the van while I get out as one of Alaric’s men moves the SUV blocking Ron’s van. Leo strolls up to me as the vehicle leaves the lot, giving me a quick once over. “You’re not hurt, right?”
I shake my head, my thoughts still flowing with the conversation I just had with Ron Moretto.
How does he know Ansel and his brothers? How does he know Lea? And does that mean Ansel knows Kendra?
I frown as I realize the harsh truth that I know nothing about Ansel, and it is scary that I trust him despite knowing this.
I pull my head up to see the current occupant of my mind, his dark hair bouncing against his forehead as he briskly approaches me. Concernment is etched on his face and I find my earlier doubts withering.
“I was looking all over you,” he states, his eyes drifting to Alaric’s men. He nods in greetings and they return one each before granting us privacy.
“What’s going on, why are you around here? I was looking all over for you…I was worried sick…”
Should I tell him that I met Ron Moretto?
Yes, I should.
“Ron Moretto…He spoke to me just now.”
I watch as Ansel’s jaws tighten, his brows drawing together to form a frown. His eyes go to scan the parking lot before landing back on me. “What?”
“Ron Moretto. Kendra’s uncle.”
His gaze anxiously flickers over me as he gently pulls my face between his soft hands. He closes his eyes then reopens them and they appear so vulnerable as he peers at me. “D-did he hurt you, Rain?”
My lips threaten to drag in a smile at the utter care in his orbs and I shake my head. “No…”
Ansel is relieved as he releases me, shifting in his stance. “What did he say?”
“He offered me a ‘proposal’.”
He squints his eyes. ” A proposal? What kind?”
“He says he won’t hurt me or Riley, if I…come under his wings.”
Ansel narrows his eyes at this, his brows furrowing in displeasure. “His wings—what—what does that even mean?”
“I have no idea. But he says he needs me because I am strong and—”
“Oh, I see where this is heading. Not again.”
“No way, you’re not going under anyone’s wings. He should stay the hell away from you if he knows what’s good for him.” Ansel pulls my hand in his and my eyes fall to the action. “Don’t worry about it, okay? I’ll take care of it. He can’t touch you.”
I meet his eyes again. “He says one month. He’s giving me one month before he comes back for me.”
Ansel sighs. “Don’t worry about it. I will not let anyone hurt you, alright? Just trust me. Do you trust me?”
I smile a little. “I do…”
He nods his head and pulls me into his arms, hugging me against him. I close my eyes as I inhale the scent of his body.
I do not know much about him, but I feel safe with him. He says he will not let anyone hurt me, and every part of me trusts his words. Every part of me trusts him.
“Ansel.” Leo makes his way over to us and we break apart. “I don’t think it’d be safe for you guys to stay here any longer; we can’t trust Ron Moretto…he’s not a man that sticks by his words.”
“Yeah, but Riley won’t be discharged until tomorrow…so we have to stay here another night.” Ansel replies and Leo nods in understanding.
“Okay…we’ll be here anyway, so we’ll keep an eye out,” he promises.
“Thanks, Leo. We owe you.”
“Nah, I owe you and Alaric.” He smiles at us and we mirror the gesture before he returns to the group of guys standing by the SUV.
Ansel takes my hand in his. “Let’s return to the hospital room. I’m not letting you out of my sight again.”
My eyes fall to our hands interlaced as he gently pulls me with him in the direction of the exit.