Day One [Part I]
“But you aren’t Jericho and Alex isn’t Obadiah.”
I didn’t know why I was surprised to find Ron leaning on the streetlight right in front of the house of the kid I had risk my life to keep alive. With how today was playing out, nothing should have been able to shock me at this point, but seeing her made me take a pause.
She had switched her skirt out for trousers that flared at the knee and her jacket for a trench coat. She was also wearing heels now, which didn’t bode well for me.
But what really caught my attention was have her presence had turned the scene into something more than it was.
Without a care, she examined her nails under the flickering streetlight. Right now, the world was her canvas but she still didn’t let her gaze flit elsewhere. For her there was nothing more distracting than herself, and I agreed.
The early morning rays fell softly along her fingers, highlighting her dark skin beautifully. The only thing that could have made the scene more aesthetic would have been falling snow.
I could picture the finished shot in my mind. The sun would be dim but elegantly so, streaking the sky orange and pink as it announced the start of the day. The snowfall would be light and frozen in time when the shutters closed, and Ron would be in the center of it all, unaware of how much of nature’s appeal revolved around her in that instant.
‘Ebony Charm’ would have been the name of the photo if I could I had the opportunity to take it, but unfortunately now it was just another moment only I would see.
Maybe I had stared for too long because in the next moment, she turned in my direction and smiled. Just like that, the picture-perfect scene vanished.
I shoved my hands deep into the pockets of Alex’s coat and picked up the pace. If I was lucky, she was still in a good mood despite having to deal with Antonia’s complicated situation. Maybe the heels had been worn in a celebratory mood.
“You two sure took your time,” she commented the instant I was in front of her, and instead of craning my neck to meet her gaze, I chose to stare at the sidewalk instead.
“I fell asleep. Again. Alex didn’t wake me up.”
“Did something happen?”
“No,” I mumbled, then winced when I realized what I had just said. I wanted nothing more than to forget what happened in the car, but that didn’t mean that I could get away with lying to the boss.
Saffron hated liars to the bone, much more than roaming eyes and messes. I had learnt that the hard way. It was a rookie mistake to say no to one of her questions. There were many ways I could have avoided giving a direct answer, yet I had chosen the wrongest one.
Saffron didn’t say a word, and I just stewed in the silence, wondering what was going through her mind. I considered apologizing but that would only make it obvious that I had done something wrong—which I hadn’t.
I was just about to confess that Alex had kissed me when she raised an arm to place her nails under my chin. I stiffened at the feel of their sharp edges against my skin, having no doubt that they could cut me open if she wished. She had never done it before but the fear was always there.
I was once again reminded of the fact that my life was always in hands. She had saved me enough times to be able to take it whenever she wanted.
When she nudged my head up, I didn’t resist and allowed our eyes to meet.
Under the scrutiny of her knowing gaze, I felt like a child caught with their hand stuck in a jar of forbidden cookies. I felt my face flood with heat when I realized that she was observant enough to know what had happened from seeing me alone.
“If your tousled hair and swollen lips are anything to go by, something definitely happened between you two,” Ron chuckled and closed the gap between us till I could feel her breath on my forehead, “a really interesting sort of something. . .”
“He didn’t even try to hide it from me.” She ran her thumb over the wound on my lip, reminding me of its presence. When I flinched, she shifted her attention to my flushed cheeks. “Did it hurt, Kay? Alexiares can be really possessive when he wants to be.”
I took a step back, out of her grip. The fact that Alex had intended for her to see me like this only made me feel worse about it. I wanted nothing more than to have the Earth swallow me and melt me in its molten core. “Why are you here, boss—”
“Don’t call me boss.” Ron threw one arm over my shoulders and traced the impression the cord had left on my neck with her free hand. Like with the bite, I only really felt the pain when she pointed it out. “I’m here for two reasons. Well, it’s really only one now that I think about it.”
She curled her fingers into my hair. “The first was to check up on you. The second, to tell you that I will not be punishing Alexiares for his little act of insubordination. He was right. Antonia deserves more than two knives in her shoulder for trying to kill you.”
“Wouldn’t that start—” My voice stilled when she gently ran her nails along my scalp, making warm tingles spread all the way to my fingers and toes.
Suddenly, I felt very calm.
“Yes, boss?” I tilted my head back to look at her.
She pulled me to her chest, rested her chin on my hair and sighed. “I want you to know that I would never put you in a situation that would endanger your life.”
“I know,” I answered into her shoulder. I felt a little guilty about thinking about her killing me. Of course, I knew that she would never do anything to hurt me, I just couldn’t help where my thoughts went sometimes.
“If you need another break, just tell me.”
“I know, Ron. I’ve almost died enough times, it’s practically nothing at this point. I’m fine.”
“No, Kay, you’re not. You never are.” She tugged lightly on my hair. “The Carmosinos owe me an explanation for today. If it turns out that Antonia was working without orders, they might choose to abandon her.”
“If they do, what will you do to her?”
“I don’t have that sort of authority.”
“And who does? Alexiares?”
“Why don’t you trust him? At Antonia’s mansion, he could have let you die. He didn’t.”
“If I died, Kay, you wouldn’t have been able to live. Even if you survived the attack, my followers wouldn’t let you go. You were supposed to be my bodyguard. If I died, you would have had to follow me.” She let me pull away from her so that I could look into her eyes again. “For all I know, the only reason he hasn’t put a bullet in my brain yet is because he knows it would get you in trouble.”
“You’re going to fire him?”
“I can’t take the risk of keeping him around me after you’re gone,” she said quietly, “and I certainly won’t make him my right-hand. I can’t repeat my grandfather’s foolish mistake.”
“But you aren’t Jericho and Alex isn’t Obadiah,” I tried to reason with her. The frustration I had felt in the car was back with vengeance. “He has been with you for almost three years now. If he was a sleeper from another family, you would have known by now.”
“No, Kayden. I wouldn’t know. Every aspect of his life looks good on paper. His records are perfect, he has never even gotten a parking ticket. He went to a top class university then started managing his family business after graduating, and his family is a respectable one. They have no known affiliations with the underworld.”
“So why can’t you trust him?”
“His record is too perfect, Kay,” Saffron snapped and took a step away from me. “When did he find the time in such a busy life to become a professional killer? How did he end up in my city without me knowing? Why did he show up the same day the old man died?”
“Until he answers all these questions, I can’t trust him,” she added softly.
“I was the one who found him and brought him to you. If you think he’s a spy, how come I’m innocent? You haven’t checked my records, how do you know that you can trust me?”
“I didn’t check your records because the last time I asked you about your past, you broke down in tears.” She brushed her knuckles to against my cheek and smiled at me with a fondness I rarely got to see. “After saving my life more than once, Kay, you more than earned my trust. Has Alexiares?”
“You haven’t given him a chance to. . .” I mumbled. “He wasn’t acting like himself today. . . What did you tell him?”
Saffron clicked her tongue then chuckled. “I only pointed out that though my body currently holds no appeal to you, his might.”
“You asked Alex,” I furrowed my brows at the incredulity of the situation, “to seduce me?”
“I pointed out that if he couldn’t find a way to make you stay,” Ron explained slowly, “I would need to employ my own methods.”
“If it was his mission to make me stay, why did you kiss me?”
“If I leave all the work to Alexiares and he fails, it would be much too late for me to attempt changing your mind. I decided that also taking the initiative would prevent that.”
“I’m not going to stay, Ron. We’ve talked about this.”
“Yes, we have.” A bitter laugh slipped out of her lips. “But as the day draws nearer I’m finding it harder to let you go. Just stay, Kay. If it’s about money, I will give you every dime I have.”
“It’s not about money, Saffron, you know that.”
A sardonic smile crawled over Ron’s lips. “You see? You don’t care for my power, money or company. As much as I hate to admit, Alexiares is my last resort. I am not naive enough to believe that I can convince you not to leave, but I know that between the two of us, you care for him more.”
“I care for you both equally, and Alex won’t be able to change my mind either. Leaving is just something I have to do,” I tried to explain. “It has nothing to do with either of you, I’m just. . .”
. . . afraid of becoming a killer.
“You left this at my office.” She pulled a familiar document from inside her coat and pressed it into my arms.
“My target’s file?” I flipped through the pages and saw a picture of Daniel Guerrero Espinoza. He looked his age, nineteen, but his expression belonged on someone more immature. He had a ring piercing his lower lip and was sticking his tongue out at whoever had taken the photo.
“I thought some reading material would help you stave off some boredom while you work the job,” I heard Ron say.
I took my gaze off the redhead I would be protecting these next few days and looked at her, concerned.
“Ron—” There was still so much we had to talk about.
The possibility of Alex being a spy. The undeniable sexual tension between the two of them. Her adamance at not letting me leave the gang. The reluctance I felt to leave.
But she cut me off. “I’ve already told the Espinoza family to come for him on or before Wednesday, if they don’t, I’ll put a bullet in him myself. I can’t let a mission interfere with your personal life.”
“Thank you,” I replied stiffly. I wished there was a way for me to leave that didn’t hurt Alex or Ron, but it didn’t exist. I had to go, for my sake.
Ron reached into her coat again, pulling out a revolver this time around. She held it out to me by the barrel. “How you considered my offer? If you take it, you’ll only have two months left.”
“I thought you wanted me to stay?” I joked. Maybe if the situation was different, it would have fallen flat and left a stale taste in my mouth.
She smiled regardless. “It would put me at ease.”
“The answer is still no.” I stared down at the file to avoid seeing whatever emotion had spilled into her gaze. I didn’t know whether me staying back for an extra month made her happy or sad, and I didn’t want to know. “I can’t use guns on my runs. . . It’s a principle.”
“You,” she began to say, but paused and shook her head. “Don’t take what Alexiares did too personally. . . If you go, his world will fall apart, and personally, that is something I can relate to.”
When I managed to nod at that gut-wrenching statement, she took a step back and walked away.
I watched her get into a car parked further down the street and let out a breath I didn’t know I was holding when it sped away.
That conversation didn’t go how I had expected but it could have been worse. A lot worse.
My determination could have buckled. I could have promised to never leave her side just see her eyes light up like fireworks. I could have taken the gun. But I didn’t.
I had managed to stand firm and do what I knew was best for me, and in three months I would be free.