Pink Walls

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Sunday Morning [Part I]

I can’t believe that she was right.

For the first time since the gunfire stopped, I was realizing just now how cold the air was. It blanketed me in a soothing way and with each breath I took, helped reinforce the fact that I had made it this far without having to take a life personally.

Till now, I hadn’t been forced to make that choice—mostly because Saffron had no problems making it for me. She knew how to handle herself and as a bodyguard, that made me sort of irrelevant.

I was the perfect example of a bad investment but she still kept me around. I should have been happy.

I wasn’t.

I knew that one day, my luck would run out. With three months left till I could put this all behind me, I was worried that it wouldn’t hold out for long enough, and I was more afraid of what killing someone would do to me than of the act itself.

It was a thought that made me sick because it meant that deep down I was actually okay with taking a life and the only thing that was stopping me from doing so was guilt.

“You know, you don’t have to stay here, Kay.”

My gaze snapped away from the horizon to Ron, and the moment I did I was trapped under her inquisitive stare. I stared back because I didn’t know what to say.

I was afraid that if I opened my mouth, she would see right through me, and if she asked me what was wrong I wouldn’t be able to lie to her.

Since the fighting stopped, I hadn’t moved from this spot.

From here I could see all the people who were milling about. I had my eyes on all the vehicles parked in the compound. If anyone wanted to hurt Ron, I’d see them before they saw me. I’d handle the situation before they got a chest full of bullets just because of a brief moment of stupidity.

I let out a breath and tugged on my gloves. They offered little in the way of warmth but I was thankful to have them on. Wearing them made me feel clean—knowing that there was no blood on my hands.

“I know, Ron,” I answered as softly as I could. Any louder and she would have been able to tell that I was hiding something.

She nodded and turned around to continue conversing with whoever was on the phone with her. She talked in harsh whispers while drumming her fingers on her thigh.

She wasn’t happy.

It had taken half-hour for Saffron’s men to finish sweeping the compound and capturing the rest of Antonia’s people, and all the while, I stayed silently by her side despite her telling me five minutes in that she was no longer in any need for protection.

I just couldn’t bring myself to leave the mansion until I was done watching the ‘meeting room’ get wiped down and bleached by her family’s professional cleaning crew. She had called them in to fix the mess we made after all the shooters in the mansion had been handled, but they didn’t start with the room Antonia attacked us in so I had to wait and watch them carry bodies out to the vans parked out front.

I had counted twenty-four dead before I couldn’t anymore, and it made my stomach turn. I didn’t know which of the men had been killed when I had tossed all those grenades and I had no one to talk to about the itch in my lungs that just wouldn’t go away.

I wanted to scream.

I had been doing this for nearly three years now and I still felt like my body was eating itself out from the inside when I thought about what I had done today.

I was pathetic.

I knew—without anyone having to tell me—that my prints were probably all over the room.

Facing it now, I realized that I might have touched the table once or twice before I put gloves on. A thread from my clothes might have gotten snagged on a nail jutting out somewhere and my hair could have been nicked by the glass that fell when the window shattered.

No matter how careful I had been, evidence of my presence here could be found on any surface right now and I wouldn’t know it. The only thing I was absolutely sure wouldn’t incriminate me was the cord that sat deep in the pocket of Alex’s coat.

I’d have to drop it—and all the skin cells it had scraped off my neck—at an incinerator later.

The last thing I needed was to be connected to this crime scene. I didn’t need another source of anxiety tying me down to a life I knew was wrong.

“Kay, you really should go.”

Ron was done with her phone call and had her full attention on me now. She didn’t look like someone who had just initiated a killing spree. She just looked like Saffron—always poised and ready.

I blinked at her then sucked in another frigid breath while thinking about what to say. If she knew that I was scared of being linked to what happened here, she would laugh and laugh till she started to cry.

Then she would assure me that she had a tight hold on both the press and the cops. She’d tell me that I was being worried for nothing.

And she would be right. I knew that it was unlikely that anyone but the Ciscos and Carmosinos would know about the shootout that went down this morning, but that wasn’t what I wanted.

I don’t know what I want.

I was just tired.

“Kayden.”

I turned to face the rest of the compound and found Alex standing just behind the heap of red snow the cleaners hadn’t yet gotten to taking care of. The thought of the two bodies that had once occupied that spot succeeded in knocking the air out of me.

I ignored the feeling and brushed back the strands of hair that had fallen over my eyes. Ron followed my gaze. When she saw Alex, she frowned.

I could understand why.

Alex looked different from how he did the last time we saw him. His tie was crooked; a smear of blood stained the collar of his normally pristine dress shirt and it looked like he had run his fingers through his hair at least a dozen times before getting here.

The most glaring difference though, was the scrape along his cheekbone, just under his right eye. It looked as though he had just managed to get it to stop bleeding and it might have been the source of the blood that speckled his shirt. Maybe.

Ron took a step forward and pointed an accusatory finger in his direction.

“Alexiares,” the way she growled out his name caused shivers to run down my spine, “you didn’t.”

Alex didn’t answer her and just marched towards me while tugging a white handkerchief out of his pocket. I noticed that it was also stained red with blood—a lot of it.

When he handed the soiled cloth to me, I found the two throwing knives I had given Ron snuggled between its folds.

My breath caught in my throat. “You went after Antonia.”

Alex didn’t seem to care that Ron had a deadly glare fixed on him. He stared right into my eyes and said, “Your fingerprints could have been on them.”

That was all, no further explanation given, and I realized that he was right. My fingerprints could have been on the knives but going after Antonia just for that was insane. I was worried about the authorities finding out who I was not another crime family.

“You are going to start a war, Alexiares,” Ron said before I could give him a reply.

“She attacked Kayden.”

“And I brought you along for the sole purpose of handling that,” Ron snapped, then pressed a palm to the side of her head and paced for a while.

When she stopped, she turned to us again. “What did you do to her?”

It was only now that I remembered that Alex didn’t leave people alive, especially if they had seen his face, and Antonia must have seen him if she was the responsible one for the nasty cut that he now sported.

Alex didn’t answer Ron. Without a word, he spun on his heel and walked back down the steps to the rest of the compound. We watched him pull a key fob from a pocket in his jacket and point it at a silver Mercedes—a car that did not belong to the Cisco family.

When the trunk popped open, he reached in and dragged Antonia out by the hair. The moment her bare knees hit the snow, I was able to hear her muffled screams.

She too looked different from how she had been the last time we saw her. Her evening gown had rips all over it, revealing the bruises forming on her pale skin and some of her underwear, and blood had soaked through the part of the dress covering her shoulder.

Her eyes were wide with distress; her lips had been covered with duct tape and there was a bulge in her cheeks from whatever Alex had stuffed in her mouth to keep her quiet. Her hair was a mess too, but that was understandable seeing that most of it was in Alex’s tight grasp.

I was too shocked to react when he started walking back to us with Antonia in tow. As she was dragged through the snow by her hair alone, I noticed that she had also been hog-tied. There was really no way for her to escape or retaliate.

After a while, she didn’t even bother screaming or struggling anymore and just let Alex haul her body up the concrete steps.

I knew that it was the humiliation more than the pain that had finally gotten to her. The great Antonia Carmosino herself, given less dignity than what a dog deserved. She wasn’t even allowed to crawl.

I had never seen Alex act with such cruelty, and apparently neither had Ron, because she said nothing when the man dropped Antonia at her feet. There was just no emotion showing on her usually expressive features.

Maybe she was just as shocked as I was.

The Alex I knew, knew better than to chase after a defeated enemy then keep them alive instead of ending them. But we couldn’t kill Antonia without starting a war—and now keeping her alive was the only other option yet it seemed to lead to the same eventuality.

I just didn’t understand what was going through his head. He usually didn’t make messes and this was a very big one. I couldn’t begin to wrap my head around the number of favors Ron would have to call in just to make sure the city wouldn’t be engulfed by the chaos that was sure to ensue.

“I’m taking Kayden home,” Alex said before grabbing my arm and walking me to the car the three of us had used to get here.

He didn’t even wait for Ron’s reply.

He opened the passenger side door for me and I slid in without a word. He got in on the other side and started the engine.

“Put on your seatbelt,” he said as he clicked his in place, and I obeyed, too confused to even think to question him.

It was only when we were miles away and the Carmosinos’ part of the city was no longer visible behind us that I plucked up the courage and asked, “Are you okay?”

For a moment, he didn’t answer. I watched his grip on the steering wheel tighten, forming creases in the black gloves that he always wore on these sort of missions.

“You didn’t have to go after Antonia,” I added. “We had already won. Taking her hostage makes no difference.”

“If the business with Alphaz gets hairy later,” he began in a low tone but the tension in his shoulders remained, “we can use her life as a bargaining chip.”

It took me a full thirty seconds to realize that he had been talking about what the Carmosinos might do to me when they realized that I was protecting the person that had gotten their men killed. Using Antonia’s life to safeguard mine was only sensible on paper. With the shaky relationship she had with her father, no one could be sure that he wouldn’t just let us do whatever we wanted with her now then get revenge on us later when he realized that a part of him still loved his daughter.

“I understand that,” I told Alex. It was a lie. I was as far from understanding as person in my position could get. “But that’s for the boss to worry about, not you.”

“Why did you kiss her?”

I paused to process the question before letting my gaze snap back to him. “Is that why you went after Antonia? To spite the boss or something?”

“What does Antonia have to do with this?”

“Ron said that us kissing would annoy you,” I muttered under my breath, knowing fully well that he could still hear me. “I can’t believe that she was right.”

“Are you going to answer me?”

“I don’t know.” I shook my head. The workplace drama I had been avoiding had found me anyway—Ron and Alex’s more-than-confusing dynamic. “I don’t know if you’re upset that the boss kissed me, or that I let her do it.”

Alex frowned deeply but didn’t take his eyes off the road. “I don’t like men.”

“You don’t like women either,” I said, just as a reminder. “So when are you going to tell her?”

He remained silent. It wasn’t a contemplative kind of silence either, it was just his way of ending the conversation.

I wasn’t having any of it though. This thing between him and Saffron—whatever it was—had to end before it got someone killed.

“Look,” I pulled off my gloves, “you’re demisexual and pansexual. I and Ron are really the only people you can have feelings for. It’s either me or her, so what are you—”

I was cut off when Alex floored the gas and pulled up the handbrake.

The car skidded on the ice, drifting round the next corner then spinning around so that we were facing oncoming traffic. If the road hadn’t been empty, we would have gotten into a collision accident.

“What the hell, Alex! If you didn’t want to talk about—”

“Don’t get out of the car, Kayden,” he said, an extra-serious quality to his deep voice.

While I was still trying to make sense of what was happening, he leaned over me to get to the glove compartment and started rifling through the stacks of cable ties, leather gloves and other miscellaneous items he kept there.

Even when he was back in his seat, feeding a loaded magazine into a nine millimeter handgun, my heart was still racing.

It was only when he slammed the door shut and started walking down the road that I realized that there was now a black sports car parked just some metres ahead of ours.

Someone had been tailing us this entire time.

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