Pink Walls

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Day One [Part II]

“There were no bullets in the gun, and your kitchen is a filthy mess. Do you stress bake?”

I let out a shaky breath and looked down at the file in my hand. For a second, I considered reading it but immediately thought better of the idea. Ron always told me what I needed to know and had never forced a file on me before no matter how elaborate the run was.

Only God knew why she was so desperate for me to see what was between the two pieces of manila. She had been less insistent about me carrying a gun around too, which was more than suspicious.

It’s best not to look, I decided, and tucked the file under my arm. It’ll spare me a lot of trouble.

With a heavy sigh, I returned my attention to the house. Normally, I would have scouted the area before going in but the fact that Ron hadn’t been secretive about meeting me here meant that the house wasn’t under surveillance—yet. And that made my first day so much easier.

With three long strides I walked up the steps of the porch, and didn’t even have to knock before the door swung open.

The first thing that hit me was a thick floral scent that tickled my nose—not unpleasantly—followed by the scent of freshly baked cookies and vanilla.

Immediately, I focused my senses on the person in front of me: my target.

Daniel Guerrero Espinoza stood two heads shorter than me and had hair a shade redder than running blood hanging over one of his eyes to cover the better half of the left side of his face. Lighter—almost pink—strands streaked his thick mane in a way that was too random to be artificial.

By the right corner of his bottom lip was a silver ring that would have highlighted the teen’s smile beautifully if he had been in the mood to grin.

All in all, the nineteen year old didn’t look more like a murderer now than he did in the grainy photo Ron had placed in the file.

I looked down at the pistol in the teen’s hand, more surprised by its make than the fact that it was there.

“Who sent you?” Daniel narrowed his gaze and forced the gun’s barrel into my chest. “Think carefully about that, yeah?”

“The only person in this city who doesn’t want you dead,” I answered coolly and used the file in my hand to shield Daniel’s hands from the view of the rest of the street, just in case someone really was watching. “Go ahead and shoot, draw more attention to yourself by killing an unarmed man at your doorstep.”

“You’re not a Carmosino.”

“And right now, I don’t work for the Ciscos either,” I said as the teenager lowered the firearm. “I’m just a friend from out of town who’s paying you a visit.”

Daniel’s turquoise eye darted over his shoulder before he nodded and backed away from the entrance. “You should come inside.”

“Thank you.”

I stepped into the house and shut the door gently behind me. “That’s a nice pistol. I don’t recognize its make.”

“Thanks.” Daniel rubbed the back of his neck then set the semiautomatic on the coffee table behind him. “My mother made it for me. Sorry about...that… I’m a little on edge. Can’t take chances, right?”

I didn’t comment on that and appraised the living room instead. The blinds were all shut and only one light was on, explaining why the house seemed unoccupied when I had looked in from outside. It had been a smart move on Daniel’s part. “You live alone?”

“You have my file.”

“Haven’t read it.”

“Aren’t you supposed to?”

“I don’t make unnecessary efforts for those who don’t deserve it.” I pushed passed the teen and stepped into the kitchen. Three fully decorated cakes sat on the counter, along with complimentary cupcakes and dozens of trays containing the chocolate-chip cookies I had smelt earlier. “Pretty big house for someone living alone.”

“I was told I’d be getting company…”

“How does this work anyway?” Daniel asked when I grabbed a glass from a rack by the sink and filled it with tap water. “You follow me around everyday?”

“That’s the job description of a bodyguard.” I drained the cup in two gulps then went about washing it. “Would you prefer if I left you alone?”

“No.” Daniel shoved his hands into the pocket of his jeans and leaned against the kitchen doorway. “You can have some cookies if you want.”

“Are you trying to buy my loyalty with pastries?”

“Maybe.” Daniel smiled at his own words. “It’s also an apology for threatening to kill you.”

“A threat was all it was, I knew you wouldn’t do it.”

“Are you underestimating me? Think I’m weak or someth—”

“I’m not looking down on you, kid. I’m here because you’ve gotten a lot of people killed, so I know just how dangerous you are.” I turned off the tap and set the cup back on the rack. “There were no bullets in the gun, and your kitchen is a filthy mess. Do you stress bake?”

“For someone who didn’t even bother reading my file, you are oddly concerned about me.”

I turned around and raised an eyebrow, the sponge still in my hand. “Are you afraid I won’t protect you properly, Danny?”

“You didn’t read my file. That says enough about how much you care about my safety.” Daniel shook his head. “You don’t know what you’re up against. If you did you wouldn’t be washing dishes like a perfect little homemaker.”

“So, are you a pup or a cub?” I ignored the barb and returned to scrubbing the pans soaked in the sink. When I got no answer, I tilted my head in the direction of the fridge. There was a calendar hanging on the wall beside it and every day in December had been crossed out in red. “Guerrero and Espinoza. . . must be tough.”

“If you wanted to know, you would have read—”

“Ever met someone who hasn’t read your file, Danny?”

At the teen’s silence, I nodded knowingly. “Thought so.”

“Are you trying to be nice to me?” Daniel scoffed and crossed his arms. “I thought you didn’t think I was worth the effort.”

“Not reading your file and treating you like a person are two different things.” I ran my fingers through my hair and grimaced at the oily feeling. I needed a shower. “If you still want me to read your file, I can.”

“No….” Danny looked away and tapped his foot a few times against the paneled floor. “I’ll tell you what you need to know.”

“So?”

“My mother is a Guerrero. So by all standards, I’m a Cub.”

“That means the Carmosino’s dogs will be able to sniff you out if it comes down to it.”

“That’s why I’m doused in three bottles of perfume.”

I wrinkled my nose at that admission. Though I wasn’t bothered by the scent, it was still overwhelming. “I noticed.”

“How long have you been here?” I asked.

“This house, one week. The city, three months.”

“Why?”

“Custody battle. Ma didn’t want me caught in the crossfire.”

“Custody battle?”

“You really didn’t read my file?”

“You expected me to lie?”

“It’s expected that you would do so to gain my trust.” Danny nibbled on his bottom lip for a moment. “My grandmothers are getting old and I’m their preferred heir—”

“You?” I almost laughed at that.

“—so the two families are fighting over who gets to be my main family and who gets to be the side branch. Ma is winning, as expected.”

“But your father’s family is the one picking you up.”

“They must have come to some sort of compromise. That means it’s time for me to go home and claim my throne,” Daniel said with a dry tone.

“You don’t sound too happy about that.”

“I prefer living here. It’s simple,” he said bitterly and gestured to the space around me. “I have a job and people smile at me genuinely. Anonymity is a gift that I never had. Forgive me if I’m not so eager to lose it.”

“Where do you work?”

“At a grocery store on the other side of the city,” he answered then grimaced. “Are you going to tell me to stop going?”

“No. I just want to tell you that from now on I’ll be tagging along.” I tossed the file to the teenager and walked out the kitchen.

I eyed the stairs leading to the upper floor then turned back to Daniel. “And where will I be staying?”

Daniel dropped the file by the cakes and rushed to my side. “You have a room, it’s beside mine. The two rooms are connected by an adjoining door.”

“Is this the arrangement you use for other bodyguards?”

“It’s standard protocol.” Daniel frowned slightly. “Don’t tell me you have a problem with it?”

I looked at the stairs again, crossed my arms and mused. “Do you have a couch in your room?”

❄❄❄

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