Chapter 15. A Ghost
Kalia and Austin walked into the study together, hand in hand. Whatever problems they had, they patched up.
“Hey, where is Aria?” Kalia asked.
“She is still asleep. I wouldn’t bother her, Kalia. Aria has been really exhausted lately. Pregnancy kind of does that to her. Not only that, but she gets moody, and guess who has to deal with the repercussions of that. . .” I trailed off.
Kalia smiled and raised her eyebrows.
I mashed my lips in a straight line and pointed a thumb at my chest. “That’s right. This guy. It’s safer to let her sleep, trust me.”
Kalia threw her hand over her mouth and let out a giggle. “Okay, I won’t poke the sleeping bear, I promise.”
“I’m forever grateful,” I said and chuckled.
“So, what are you two doing here?” I asked. I dropped the pen on the desk and waited for them to speak.
Austin grimaced. “Hiding from Mom and Sierra,” Austin said.
“Really? They’re not that bad,” I scoffed.
Kalia bit her lip, and her gaze dropped to the floor. From her expression, I knew that they said something to her that they probably shouldn’t have.
“What happened?” I arched a brow.
Austin sucked in a deep breath and let it go. Austin rolled his eyes and shook his head. “Talking shit like always,” Austin muttered. His voice came out so low that I wasn’t sure that he meant for me to hear him.
“Sierra said that I trapped Austin on purpose, but that’s not true,” Kalia said. Kalia looked at me, and I saw the truth of it in her eyes.
“I believe you,” I told her. “Don’t listen to her, Kalia. Sierra likes to make assumptions, and she is very blunt. Don’t let it intimidate you. So far, I have managed to stop Sierra from saying things like that to Aria. Sierra isn’t quite as bad with Aria because Aria lost her memory. Sierra says things like that to everyone. She is too opinionated.”
“Which is why I can’t fucking stand her,” Austin added. “Anyway, Mom called early this morning and left me a voicemail saying that she and Sierra were coming over, so I dodged them.”
“That’s kind of rude,” I pointed out.
“No, Ace. That is me being subtle,” Austin snickered. “Mom is okay, but when she is with Sierra, she tends to agree to everything Sierra says.”
I shrugged. “I get it, but you shouldn’t have come here. This is the first place they will look.”
Rosa came into the study with Angel. Rosa sat Angel on his feet and looked at me. “Ace, I fed Angel breakfast. He wanted you. I hope that is okay?”
“Of course. Thanks, Rosa. Is Aria awake yet?” I asked. Aria had been asleep for about thirteen hours, and it was starting to make me anxious.
“I don’t think so. Would you like me to check on her?” Rosa asked.
I sighed. I hated waking Aria up, but she had been asleep for a long time. “Yes, please.”
Rosa left the study without another word and closed the door behind her. Angel wandered over to me and smiled at me. I picked him up and placed him in my lap.
My phone rang on the desk.
Angel reached for it, but I grabbed it first. Angel looked up at me and pouted. I chuckled at his expression.
“Hello?” I answered.
“Ace, have you seen your brother?” Mom asked.
I pursed my lips, and my eyes flickered to Austin. My eyes danced in amusement.
Austin knew immediately. He didn’t need to ask. He could see it from my expression. Austin waved his arms back and forth. “No,” Austin mouthed.
“Nope, not since yesterday,” I lied smoothly.
Austin breathed a sigh of relief.
“Okay. Well, Sierra and I are out and about. Do you mind if we swing in?” Mom asked.
“Of course not.”
“Okay. See you soon,” Mom said.
“Yep.” I hung the phone up and smirked at my brother. “You better get lost like real fast, or Mom is going to know you’re avoiding her, and she is going to know I lied for you.”
“She’s coming here, isn’t she?” Austin asked.
“She’s on her way. God only knows how close she is,” I said and chuckled.
Angel smiled widely at Austin.
“Alright. We’re leaving,” Austin said. Austin grabbed Kalia’s hand, and they sprinted to the door.
Angel looked up at me with the same smile he had given Austin. “Dada, where Autin?” I knew that Angel meant Austin, but he couldn’t quite say his name correctly.
“Running away from Nana,” I whispered. “It’s a secret, shh.” I put a finger to my lips. “Don’t tell Nana that you saw Austin.”
Angel blinked a few times and gave me a small smile. “Okay,” Angel said.
I chuckled and put my hand up for Angel.
Angel slapped his hand on mine to give me a high five.
Rosa bursted into the study. “Ace, something is wrong. Aria is breathing, but she won’t wake up.”
My heart exploded at her words. Every muscle in my body tensed. My body reacted quicker than my mind could. I jumped out of my seat and handed Angel to Rosa. “Watch him,” I said. I sprinted down the long hallway and into the foyer. I reached the corner of the staircase and slid across the marble floor because of my socks. I came close to losing my balance but managed to regain it. I dashed up the stairs taking two to three steps at a time.
Even though I moved as fast as I could, I felt angry with myself that my feet wouldn’t move faster. Horrible thoughts twisted in my mind as I raced for our bedroom door. I threw the double doors open and stopped dead in my tracks.
Aria sat on the edge of the bed with her head in her hands. She shook uncontrollably and sobbed.
“Bebita,” I murmured. I breathed a sigh of relief, but I didn’t understand what had her so upset.
Aria’s head snapped up.
Hesitantly, I took a step forward. “Bebita, what is wrong? Are you okay?”
Tears streaked down her face. She wiped her hands across her cheeks and jumped off the bed. “Ace,” she breathed.
The look in her eyes made me feel unsteady. My chest rose and fell heavily. I stared at her as she closed the distance between us.
Aria threw her arms around my neck and hugged me tightly. “Everything is ruined,” Aria choked out.
I wanted to hug her back, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t wrap my head around how bizarre she was acting. I grabbed her face between my hands and forced her to move back and look at me. “What is ruined? What in the hell are you talking about?”
“The mansion exploded. People are hurt. Is Jenny okay? Where is Andersen? Where is my baby, Ace? We didn’t get married. I—”
“Woah, wait. What? What the hell are you talking about, Aria? Jenny and Andersen are fine. Angel is okay too. What—” I stopped. I couldn’t finish. My eyes bored into her eyes.
“They’re not,” Aria shook her head. “They’re—” Aria stopped and dropped her head. She panted as if she had just finished going for a long run. Her face scrunched up, and the panic slowly disappeared from her face. “Oh,” Aria breathed.
“What?” I asked. “Aria, do you remember something? Did you forget?”
Aria’s blue eyes locked with mine, and they were different. She didn’t have to answer my question because I saw the answer in her eyes. Aria’s eyes flashed with recognition and perceptiveness. In her eyes, I saw bravery that I hadn’t seen in a long time. A smile played on her thick pink lips. “I remember everything.”
My jaw dropped. I saw it, but I couldn’t believe it. I swallowed hard. “D-do you?” I stammered.
Aria smirked, and that smirk confirmed it. That smirk wasn’t something that existed in her until we had been together for quite some time. Her smirk faded, and she sighed. “I just can’t believe all that happened. There is so much that I missed. I was here, but it’s like I wasn’t here. . .” Aria trailed off and shook her head.
“It doesn’t matter,” I said. I brushed her hair back with my hand. “You’re back now, and that is all that matters. I’m so glad you finally remember.” I grabbed her face between my hands and smashed my lips to hers.
Aria tangled her fingers in my hair and molded her body to mine. The way she kissed me told me that she remembered. Her lips moved with mine as if she was familiar with them. She wasn’t holding back anything. The kiss wasn’t soft and sweet. It was hard and demanding. Aria broke the kiss, and her eyes widened.
“What?” I asked breathlessly.
“Ace, I’m pregnant,” she whispered.
I wiggled my eyebrows and nodded. “I know.”
Aria giggled so hard she snorted. “So, how long have I been out?” she asked.
“Over twelve hours,” I said. “I had Rosa check on you, but she couldn’t wake you. She was worried, and she came to tell me.”
“Oh,” Aria breathed. “God, there is so much that happened. What is strange is that I remember not remembering anything.” Aria smiled widely at me. “You made me fall in love with you all over again. You lied to me and told me the truth. We had sex.”
“Memory or no memory, the sex was just as good,” I said and winked.
Aria smirked, but then her face grew serious. “Angel. . . I need to see him.”
“He’s downstairs with Rosa,” I said.
We walked hand in hand downstairs. Rosa came into the foyer from the kitchen. Angel walked beside her and stopped when he saw Aria.
Aria smiled widely at him. “My baby and you’re walking.” Tears built in Aria’s eyes again. Aria moved closer to Angel and put her arms out for him. “Come to mama, baby,” Aria cooed.
Rosa tilted her head in confusion.
Angel walked as quickly as he could to Aria with a smile on his face. Aria lifted him up and kissed him all over his face.
Angel giggled and kissed her back.
“Aria has her memory back,” I told Rosa.
Rosa smiled. “Oh, Aria, that is such great news!”
Aria smiled at Rosa. Aria handed Angel back to Rosa. “And now I have much work to do.” Aria turned to face me with a determined look on her face. “We have so much work to do,” Aria corrected.
I chuckled. “I know.”
Aria started for the study. I followed after her and pulled my phone from my pocket. I sent a text to all the boys to tell them to come to the mansion.”
Aria sat down at her desk and shuffled papers around. “Ace, we need to know who the hell sent that bomb. Also, I want every corner of California searched for my father.”
“I got a few things in place for both,” I said. “Benny is trying, bebita, but—”
“And why didn’t you take those new relations, Ace? You know that I trust your judgment. You could have taken them on. I know you’ll do what we both see fit. We rarely disagree on relations or anything of the sort.”
“It wasn’t my choice. I didn’t want to take the chair over. I only intended to run it until you got on your feet,” I said.
The study door swung open. Mom and Sierra walked into the study. Mom smiled at me and opened her mouth to speak, but I cut her off.
“Mom, now isn’t a good time,” I said.
“What do you mean?” Sierra asked rudely. “You are the one that said we could come over.”
“Aria got her memory back, and we have things to take care of now that she is feeling more herself.”
Mom gasped. “Oh, honey. That is amazing.” Mom grinned widely at Aria.
“Thanks, Adrianna,” Aria said. She reached for the phone on the desk.
“Who are you calling?” I asked Aria.
“The boys,” Aria said.
“Beat you to it. I texted them,” I said.
“I suppose we better get out of your hair,” Mom said. She pecked my cheek. She and Sierra left the study.
I poured a glass of bourbon and sat on the couch across from Aria. Aria’s forehead creased, and her eyebrows knitted together.
“What are you thinking so hard about?” I asked. I leaned back and threw my hand behind my head. It was impossible not to admire her. I hadn’t seen her sit at that desk with such a determined look in a long time.
“I feel like I’m missing something so simple, you know? Like you know that feeling that you forgot something, but you aren’t sure what until you already left? It feels exactly like that,” Aria said. She shook her head in frustration.
The study door opened, and the boys walked into the study. They stopped when they noticed Aria at the desk and me on the couch.
“What’s going on?” Luis asked.
“Aria got her memory back,” I said.
They all stared at her in shock.
“Come sit down, boys,” Aria said. “We have a lot of work to do.”
“It’s about damn time,” Benny said.
“Any luck with those numbers, Benny?” I asked. I tilted my head back to look at him.
Benny sighed and shook his head. “I’m still trying. I brought my laptop in case your text was about it. I haven’t slept in thirty-six hours.”
“Benny,” Aria scolded. “You need to get some sleep. You’re no good to us if you’re exhausted. Go upstairs and lay down for a bit.”
“She’s right,” I agreed.
“No. I’m fine. I need to get to the bottom of this. Lately, I feel like I’m losing here. It’s bullshit. I always figure this stuff out. I’m pissed off that I can’t figure it out. I’m so close. I know that I am,” Benny argued.
“Get some rest and get back at it, Benny,” Aria argued. “You won’t think clearly if you are tired.”
“I don’t think I can fall asleep,” Benny muttered.
“That can be arranged,” Joey said and smirked.
“Want some Nyquil?” I asked.
Benny sighed. “No. I guess I’ll try.”
“Good,” Aria said. “I want to talk to Jennifer and Andersen. Perhaps they saw something and just aren’t remembering. If I pick their brain a little, I might be able to figure this out.”
“I’ve already done that,” I said.
“I know, but it might be worth rehearing at this point. I seriously feel like there is something I’m missing. Where did you put that file that you had?” Aria asked.
“What one?” I asked and arched a brow. I wasn’t sure what she was getting at.
“The one you had when you found out Jennifer wasn’t in that casket.” Aria leaned back in her chair and gave me a questioning look.
“The top center drawer of the desk,” I said. “Why?”
Aria opened the drawer and pulled the file out. She started to look through the file.
“Aria, I looked through that file a dozen times. You aren’t going to find anything, trust me,” I said. “I don’t see how you think it will help.”
“Ace isn’t the only one who looked through that file, Aria. We all looked through it,” Abel said.
Aria raised her head and set her jaw stubbornly. “Hush. Just give me a minute.” Aria looked back down and took two images out. She looked closely at one, and then she scanned the second.
“What is it, bebita?” I asked.
Aria didn’t answer me, so I stood up and walked around the desk. I couldn’t wait for her to answer. I needed to see what she saw. I stood behind her and looked at the images.
“I knew he looked familiar,” she whispered.
“Enlighten me, bebita,” I grumbled.
Aria held the image up for me and pointed at one of the coroners that were at the mansion the day it exploded. “This is going to sound insane, but this man was a part of the church that Jim went to. I went there when I was young.”
“Do you recall his name?” I asked.
“Yes. His name is Robert Evans,” she said. “We need Benny for this, and we’re not waking him right now.”
“So, you think the Aryan brotherhood is still after us because we killed Jim?” Austin asked.
“Jim must have been a part of it as you suspected,” Joey said.
“Why did it take them so long to avenge him, though?” I argued. “It doesn’t make sense.”
“Maybe they’ve been plotting against us for years, and we just didn’t realize it,” Luis argued. Luis grabbed the bottle of bourbon and poured himself a glass.
Austin lit a blunt. “They would have needed insight, and they lost that when Gabriel died.”
“Maybe we should recruit. This could mean war,” I said.
“You say it like you have someone in mind?” Aria arched a brow.
Only Aria could depict little things like that out of the tone of my voice. She’s definitely back — I thought to myself. I chuckled.
“What?” Aria asked.
“It’s going to take me a while to get used to you being back to yourself,” I said.
“I love it. It’s like a piece of us was missing, and we finally got it back,” Joey said and smiled at Aria.
Aria smiled at Joey. She looked up at me with curiosity burning in her eyes. “So, who did you have in mind?”
“Diego and Miguel,” I said. “They’re smart and fast learners. They know nearly as much as the rest of us do, but they’re nomads. They don’t tend to stick to one side of the Latin Kings, but they know the truth about us because they’re related.”
“Yes,” Aria said. She pursed her lips and nodded. “I like this idea.”
“Call them, Austin,” I said.
Austin got to his feet, pulled his phone out of his pocket, and left the study.
Aria took more images and information from the file on her desk and spread it out. She searched each one individually with me looking over her shoulder. Aria went to move a picture, and it caught my attention. I caught her wrist to stop her from putting it away. I raised her arm to bring the image closer to me to get a better look.
Aria looked up at me and gave me a questioning look. “Ace, what is it?”
“Bebita,” I breathed. The image left me speechless. “Impossible.”
“What is it, man?” Luis asked.
All the boys came to stand beside me to get a look at the picture in Aria’s hand. I took the image from Aria and covered my mouth with my hand.
After a long moment of holding my breath, I let it go and dropped my hand. “Fuck me.”
“Ace?” Aria got to her feet and stared at me. “Ace, what is it?”
“Nicolas,” I breathed.
“Nicolas?” they all repeated.
“The butler?” Aria asked.
“This is him. I saw the image before. I thought the person in this image looked familiar, but I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I’m sure now. It’s him. It’s Nicolas. He was the insider,” I said.
The study door opened.
My eyes were too glued to the image to see who had walked in.
Aria gasped and stumbled back. I dropped the image and instinctively grabbed Aria’s arm to steady her.
“What?” I asked, confused. I looked around, and everyone stared in the same direction that Aria was. I looked to the door. Austin stood with a pale expression as if he had seen a ghost because he had.
A familiar man stood beside Austin with a tired expression.
I stared at him because it was impossible. I stared at him because, as impossible as it was, I wanted to believe what I saw.
Aria looked like she might be sick or faint. Her gaze locked with mine for a moment and back to the man that stood beside Austin. “Daddy?” Aria asked, confused.