21 - BAD BLOOD
She massaged the space on her hand between her thumb and index finger. Replacing the shallow breaths by using the deep breathing techniques she learned in self-defense training, Lydia was able to get a better grasp of her thoughts.
Within a few minutes of calming herself, Ryder’s building came into view, and in a matter of seconds, the vehicle careened into the underground garage. Once they made it to the secured entrance that was monitored and guarded at all times, Michael stepped out of the SUV and walked over to Lydia’s door to escort her to the executive elevator.
A group of men surrounded her as they made their way into the elevator. Michael used his key and code in order to signal for the door to open. They stepped inside with the elevator door closing as soon as he pressed the button. The entourage waited patiently until they stopped on the twenty-fourth floor.
Ryder was standing directly in front of the door when it opened. His hands instantly slid up along the sides of her face. He kissed her forehead and immediately followed that up with a hungry kiss claiming his wife’s lips. They trembled next to hers as if he feared he wouldn’t see her again.
The way the men were behaving made her feel extremely uncomfortable.
“Baby... what’s going on?” She questioned everything she saw that seemed so out of place and uncharacteristic for the man who up until lately had been keeping her right by his side.
Ryder said nothing. He held her hand and walked her over to his massive mahogany wine oak desk where a cobalt gray cake cover sat right in front of his chair. He lifted the shield and laid out all of the information he had received.
Lydia placed her bag on one of the couches and turned to find a stack of papers. She read document after document; anger increased in her heart that she had never before experienced. The nerve of some asshole to send this type of garbage was one thing, but the idea that Kemi and her mother were plotting to kidnap her was the last straw.
After years of being treated like she was less than nothing to them, how dare they think for one second that she would continue to live her life in fear. How dare they assume she was the same weak individual they could terrorize and traumatize as they had for so long.
Raw hate grew into a catastrophic ball of rage. Lydia was done. Officially, she was so done with them, her mind was ready for war. The only thing she wanted to do was beat them to death.
She knew they would never allow her to be happy and safe. Lydia screamed out her frustration. Before she gained control of her emotions, she turned over everything. Chairs, lamps, tables were thrown across the room as she lost all semblance of control. She screamed out of frustration and hurt as tears raced down her cheeks.
“Why won’t they leave me alone? Why can’t I just be happy for once in my godforsaken life?!” Lydia was so blinded by rage that she began shaking uncontrollably. It wasn’t until the strength of his arms soothed her that she glanced up to see the concerned look on her husband’s face forcing tears to rush from her eyes even faster.
The once broken woman just wanted to be left alone to love her husband. She didn’t care if he never said he loved her. Ryder was good to her. He treated her as if she deserved happiness and he worked non-stop to make sure she had everything she wanted and needed.
“Look at me.” The husky drawl insisted. Lydia’s face was buried in his chest. She had no desire to leave the firm warmth of his embrace for fear he would say something she couldn’t handle in the midst of her despair.
His hand coaxed her to face him. The artic blue of her eyes locked with the sky blue of his eyes. He wiped away the tears streaming from her face and replaced his thumbs with gentle kisses of reassurance.
“Lydia... I love you so so much. I will do everything in my power to put a stop to this TODAY. Baby... do you trust me?”
There it was. The one thing that concerned her more than anything else.
He finally said it.
Even though she should have known by now, Lydia needed to hear it from him because she knew he was once tied to a string of beauties and had a reputation for never committing to any of them.
Just like Ryder, Lydia had performed her due diligence as well. She knew everything that was available in public records about the Thornton-Walker-Bartholomew families.
One night when he was sound asleep, she received a call to meet with someone in the main dining room. At first, Lydia was concerned about the context of the meeting, but she met with Ryder’s grandmother secretly anyway.
An air of prestige followed the woman known to most as Lady Konstantina. She wasn’t dressed in a gaudy overly important manner. The elderly woman didn’t wear a tiara as Lydia had previously imagined. She was effortlessly elegant.
With a silver tight beehive, the most striking cornflower blue eyes, little to no make-up, and a custom-made Chanel tracksuit, Ryder’s grandmother commanded respect but her demeanor secured it.
“Finally, we meet.” A touch of a country twang could still be heard in her voice. She stood to receive Lydia as she made her way over to the outwardly cautious young woman.
Without a hint of her next action, Lady Konstantina grabbed Lydia and pulled her into the warmest most inviting hug she ever received from anyone other than her husband and Dr. Hubert. She held onto Lydia for a while and stepped back to examine her new granddaughter.
“You are indeed a rare beauty.” The comment caught Lydia off guard. Age-weathered hands held her face with care as she stared deep into Lydia’s eyes. The interaction put her at a loss for words.
“I see why he fell so hard for you. Your skin reminds me of the dark chocolate candy my husband used to sneak and give him all the time. No matter how many times I fussed at the two of them, Ryder’s grandfather always indulged the boy. He could do no wrong in that man’s eyes.” Lady Konstantina rambled.
She had yet to let go of Lydia’s face. The elderly woman simply smiled and hugged her more.
They sat together drinking coffee while sharing their lives with one another. It was nearly dawn before Ryder’s grandmother left.
“Please, take good care of his heart, and don’t worry about his mother. She will come around; of that I am sure. Besides, you have me, and I will fight the good fight on your behalf.” Ryder’s grandmother laughed and hugged her once more before she left Lydia feeling as if she was the most blessed woman in the world.
For so long, she prayed for this, and now, she had help on all sides.
(CROSSING THE LINE)
“Did they receive the package?” The voice from the receiver questioned impatiently.
The whole sorted affair was coming down like a house of cards. Ryder had connections everywhere. His research was raising concerns in places that would sidetrack their efforts if they didn’t quickly and quietly distance themselves from the rest of the crew.
Money wasn’t the only thing they stood to lose if their involvement in the scheme was revealed. Cornelius had informed his boss that so very influential people recently started calling in favors on behalf of Lady Konstantina. He was also informed that the woman had visited Lydia and accepted her into the family.
As much as they wanted to get paid, at this point, it might do them well to walk away quietly and lay low for a little while before their cover was blown and they were completely exposed. Cornelius’s connection along with his career would be over and he would be right back where he started.
With nothing to his name.
“Yes, the package was sent and received. I saw the evidence of it myself. A team swiftly scooped her up and delivered her to Ryder. There were so many guards around her, those fools would have never been able to carry out their plan. With the Duchess and the Big guy at her side, Lydia has become untouchable.” He explained the predicament they all found themselves in.
“I can guarantee you those fools will never stop. They believe they are owed that money and they will stop at nothing to get it. Your best bet is to stay in the shadows as much as possible. Compile everything you know and I will find a mercenary to follow them and take them out. I don’t want this to come back to me in any way. I will send you some cash. When the help is on the ground, you need to be gone. They won’t suspect we have double-crossed them. Don’t hang around when the package comes. After that, I won’t call.” The phone clicked.
Cornelius knew he would be a fool if he waited for that package. Each member of the crew was in a position to move against one another because their plan was just a big pile of shit by now. He gave his boss a complimentary heads up because of the life that was restored to him, but that was it.
He was already packing his bags. A runner would collect the package for him and deliver it to a location where another runner will pick it up and take it to the bank with strict instructions to do the job or come up missing.
Because he worked and lived in the shadows, he had a string of crooked cops, drug dealers, and fiends waiting to do his bidding. Paying people good money solidified their loyalty to him.
As far as he was concerned, this shit was a done deal for him.
With his bags in his hands, he walked out to his garage and placed them in his car. The cell phone he once used had already been deposited in a special container full of hydrofluoric acid. He pulled away from the house convinced enough time had passed to destroy any evidence when he sent a text message to a different cell phone and the house went up in flames.
He stopped farther down the road to make sure the flames engulfed the house.
“FWEET FWEET!” A whistling noise came from his back seat.
“YOU DIRTY BITCH!” He screamed out.
Cornelius had his hand on his 9mm in a matter of seconds, but he was too slow.
Pap... pap... pap. Pap... pap... pap. Pap... pap... pap. PAP!
A 9mm clip was emptied along with the one on the chamber. The first shot went through the back of his skull. The other nine shots were fired at close range directly to his face. The shooter made sure the work was completed with a silencer to prevent the shots from being heard.
At that late hour of the night, no one was in the streets to witness what had occurred or they would be dead as well.
SENDER: Target 1 eliminated.
RECEIVER: Kill every single one of them. NOW. 🤬🤬🤬
SENDER: Already on my way.