Chapter 18. This Is Your Fault
Time had passed since the incident with the council, and we weren’t much closer to dealing with the Aryan brotherhood. We had too much going on at once to be able to spend much time thinking about the vengeful gang.
Once again, Aria and I had moved forward with wedding plans. I found it strange that my nerves were more rattled by the wedding this time than the last time, and I knew the reason why. I wanted to spend the rest of my life with Aria, that wasn’t even questionable. But considering what happened the last time, I wasn’t quite as excited.
We didn’t intend to be married until after she had the babies. Babies as in plural. I still couldn’t get over the fact that we were having twins, and they were girls. I’ve been stomping around the house for weeks, muttering about not having enough guns.
Aria sat at her desk, and she lifted her head when she heard me enter the study. “Hey, babe,” Aria said and smiled. Her smile faded when she took in my expression. “What’s wrong?”
I waved my cell phone at her and tossed it down onto her desk. “Arturo called me. He wants us to meet up with him.”
“Did you tell him to suck your dick?” Aria tilted her head and gave me an innocent smile.
“I mean. . .” I trailed off and shrugged. “I thought about it.”
Aria sighed. “You told him we would meet him, didn’t you?”
“Yes,” I said simply.
“Your timing is impeccable. You know that, don’t you? Everyone is coming for the cookout today. They will be here in a few hours.”
“The workers can deal with getting things ready, bebita,” I said. “It shouldn’t take us that long.”
“Did you call the boys?” Aria asked.
“We can handle this one,” I said.
Aria scoffed. “Since when do you go anywhere without backup?”
“I’m feeling cocky today, I guess.” The sarcasm in my voice was tangible.
Aria rolled her eyes at my smartass comment. “Mind doing some of this paperwork then, so I can go change?”
“What the hell do you need to change for? You look nice.” I approached the desk and stopped across from her.
Aria had on a blue maternity dress. Her black hair piled on top of her head. She looked great. My eyes fell to her chest. The dress she wore showed off some of her cleavage.
“Ace,” Aria said. She threw a pen at me to get my attention since most of my attention was on her breasts.
Aria giggled. “I’m not meeting him in a dress that is meant for a family get-together.”
“Suit yourself, but I think you look hot.”
Aria walked around the desk and kissed me on the lips. “I’ll be down soon,” she said.
I sat down at the desk and started scribbling my name across the paperwork.
Several moments later, the study door swung open, and I knew it couldn’t have been Aria. I looked up from my paperwork.
Carlos came into the study with Chad in his arms. Chad waved shyly at me. Chad reminded me a lot of Aria. Angel is anything but shy.
“Hey, Carlos. Aria is upstairs changing,” I said.
“Colima called me. They said they wanted a relationship with us again, but you denied them. They want to rebuild the relationship, but with me instead of Aria.” Carlos looked irritated at the thought.
“What did you tell them?”
“I told them to get bent,” Carlos said and laughed. “Well, not quite that rudely. I told them that Aria is the boss and it’s her choice. I said I had no connection to artillery anymore since I’m not in the chair. I also told them that even if I wanted the chair back, which I don’t, that I can’t take it back unless Aria gives it back. I’m enjoying retirement.”
“Come on, Carlos. We both know that isn’t true. If you wanted artillery, you could get it easily.”
“But they don’t know that, and I would like to keep it that way if you don’t mind,” Carlos said and shrugged.
My eyes widened at the sudden idea that I had. My lips parted, and I put an elbow on the desk and pointed my pen at Carlos. “I have an idea.”
“What exactly is that?”
“Can retirement wait?” I smirked.
Carlos sighed and pursed his lips. “Oh, boy. What the hell are you trying to drag me into?”
“We’re having this issue with Arturo. He thinks that we are fucking him over on the guns. He doesn’t believe that you are the one who changed the artillery. We’re supposed to meet up with him today,” I explained.
Carlos nodded in understanding. “And you think that if he hears it directly from me that he might change his mind.”
Aria walked into the study and paused when she saw her dad. “Oh, hey, Dad. I wasn’t expecting you so soon. Where is Mom?”
Carlos turned halfway to look at Aria. “Hey, honey. She’s going to be here in a little while. She and Tina are having lunch together.”
“Your father is going with us to see Arturo,” I said.
Aria stopped beside Carlos but stared daggers at me. “What?”
“I think if Arturo hears the truth about the guns from your father, he might have a change of heart.”
“I don’t think that is a good idea,” Aria argued. “We can handle it ourselves.” Aria looked as if she wanted to rip my head off, but I didn’t understand her anger.
“What’s your problem?” I asked bluntly.
“We just got him back. It would be idiotic to put him in harm’s way,” Aria said through clenched teeth. She placed her hands on her hips.
“Now, Aria,” Carlos started to argue.
“Aria Marie, I can take care of myself. You do not have to worry about me.” Carlos gave her a stern expression.
“If that is true, why did you get kidnapped?” Aria snapped.
“I wasn’t expecting any danger that night. I went out to meet with some old friends. That is different than this. When I’m on a job, I know what to expect. Probably more so than you do, don’t forget, at one point in time, I was just as capable as Ace and you. That isn’t something that fades away with age. With age, you only get wiser and more experienced, and it makes you stronger.”
“Your father is right, bebita. I’ve seen what he can do. You’re only concerned because you haven’t seen him in action, but I can assure you that your worries are unnecessary,” I said.
Years ago, Carlos trained to be an assassin. Carlos is the one who trained me. However, after his brother Jose died, Carlos had no choice but to lead. Carlos never even wanted the chair, nor did he ever think he would run it. He was once a bigger badass than any of us. Carlos had been put in situations that looked petty compared to the ones we had been in.
Aria sighed. “I’m sorry, Dad. I just worry about you, and you have Chad now. Chad needs you. You get to watch him grow up, and you didn’t get that opportunity with me. I don’t want Chad to grow up without you like I had to. Not to mention, it would kill Mom if something happened to you again.”
“You don’t give your mother or me enough credit, kiddo. Your mother is tougher than you think. I am stronger than you think,” Carlos said soothingly. “It’s just a meet, and meets have gone wrong in the past, but we will be prepared.”
“Fine,” Aria said and shrugged. She knew she had no other argument, but I had a feeling I would be paying dearly for this later.
We pulled into the driveway of the warehouse and got out of the vehicle to wait for Arturo and his men to show up. The last thing I wanted was for something to happen to Carlos or Aria, so I stood between them and one step ahead of them.
“You don’t need to hover, Ace,” Carlos remarked. “It’s going to be fine. Relax.”
“I’m responsible if anyone gets hurt. It’s kind of hard to relax in these situations when they have gone wrong in the past,” I said. I tried hard to relax as Carlos told me to, but I simply couldn’t.
As soon as I heard the tires of the Escalade hit the gravel, I stiffened. These meetings were never the same after what happened to Jax. Anytime we had to meet with anyone, the image of Jax with a bullet hole in his head flooded my mind. It wasn’t as if I enjoyed thinking negatively, but after that, it’s impossible not to.
The Escalade rolled to a stop. Arturo and his men climbed out. Arturo’s eyes widened when he saw Carlos.
I placed my sunglasses on top of my head and crossed my arms over my chest. All three of us carried guns in a holster beneath our jacket. We were never stupid enough to come unarmed, but that didn’t mean someone else wouldn’t draw a gun faster.
“Carlos, what a surprise. I can’t say I recall the last time I saw you at a meet like this. I heard you were still alive. You can’t keep secrets in California,” Arturo said and chuckled.
“Arturo, you look well. How’s the family?” Carlos said in a professional tone. It wasn’t the first time I heard Carlos use that tone. I had gone to many meets with him.
“Very good. Thank you,” Arturo said. “Well, I think we should get down to business, don’t you? I’m a bit surprised to see you here, Carlos. You did leave your daughter in charge, or are you taking over?”
“After everything that happened, retirement feels like the right thing. Aria is doing a wonderful job, and I have no reason to retake control,” Carlos said. “I came to tell you that the kids told you the truth about the product. I am the one who chose to switch brands. The brand is highly recommended by many. I think it would be crazy to not take the deal. It’s quite the opportunity if you ask me. Aria isn’t doing things much different from how I did.”
“I have thought it over for months, trust me,” Arturo said. Arturo didn’t need to finish for me to know that this relationship is over. His body language, expression, and tone of voice made it clear. “I just don’t think it’s right for me.”
“That’s your choice. Take your leave peacefully, and we won’t have any problems with your decision. You certainly won’t have any future problems with us,” Aria said.
Arturo smiled and nodded. “I brought the money that I owed you.” Arturo’s men stepped forward and dropped the duffel bags.
“It’s been a pleasure to do business with you,” Carlos said. “We wish you the best of luck.”
Arturo gave us one solid nod.
“Don’t be afraid to reach out if you change your mind,” I added.
“I found a new dealer that carries the brand you used to. As long as the new dealer holds out, I don’t foresee us having any relationship in the future,” Arturo said politely. “You all have a nice day.”
We watched the men descend back to their vehicle. The Escalade purred to life. Dust filled the air from the gravel as the car drove off.
I sighed. “Well, it could have gone worse.” I stepped forward and grabbed two of the duffel bags.
Carlos grabbed the other two bags. “Certainly,” Carlos agreed. We threw the bags into the trunk of the BMW and climbed into the car.
“Thanks for coming, Dad,” Aria said. She had visibly relaxed since nothing had actually happened, and I did the same.
“Sorry that it didn’t have the outcome you had hoped,” Carlos said from the backseat.
“Far better than the worst-case scenario,” Aria argued. Aria grabbed my hand in hers and smiled at me.
We drove out of the city and back to the mansion. We remained silent the rest of the ride. Carlos looked distant, more so than usual. Carlos hadn’t been the same since he returned to us, but I imagined anyone being held hostage for over a year would come out with issues.
Aria made it into the mansion before Carlos, and I did. I caught Carlos’s arm to stop him. Carlos paused and looked at me, confused.
“Carlos, are you okay?”
“Of course. Why?” Carlos tilted his head, but the same look of distance and sadness clouded his eyes.
“You seem out of sorts. So, really, how are you?” I asked.
Carlos sighed and looked away. “I’m different, Ace. I’m not even surprised you’re the first to notice. We got very close, didn’t we?” Carlos’s eyes locked with mine again.
“I suppose we did,” I agreed.
Carlos smiled, but it wasn’t genuine. He forced a smile to suppress my worries, but it only strengthened my concern. Carlos patted my shoulder. “I’m not okay, but I will be. Don’t worry. It just takes time to get over things like that, and even I know that. Okay?”
I mashed my lips in a straight line and nodded. I couldn’t argue that. “Yeah, okay.”
We started up the front steps of the mansion. The front door swung open before we could reach it.
Aria’s panicked-stricken face made me freeze automatically. Her eyes were wide with fear. Tears streaked down her cheeks. We weren’t even that far behind her. What could have possibly happened in such a short time?
“Bebita, what is it?”
“Angel. . .” Aria trailed off and swallowed hard. “He’s gone.”
“What?” I hissed. I dashed up the steps and past Aria.
Panicked voices throughout the house called for Angel. Workers and family ran back and forth through the house.
I stopped in the middle of the foyer. My lips parted, and my heart fell into my stomach. I ran my fingers through my hair and pulled it as I stared around in shock. It doesn’t make sense. He was here when we left. This house is full of people all the time. How could he just be gone?
Rosa ran through the foyer, but I jumped into her path.
“Rosa, wait. What the hell happened?” My voice came out shaky.
“S-sir, I-I don’t know,” Rosa sobbed. Tears ran down her face. “He was outside with the other kids in that fenced-in play area. I came in only for a few minutes because one of the maids needed my help. I had been out there with them the entire time. I only stepped away for a couple of minutes. I told Tammy that I had to run inside. She and Tina weren’t even sitting far away from them.”
“Where are the other children?” I asked.
“T-they’re all accounted for,” Rosa said.
“Did anyone see someone?”
“N-no, sir. It happened so quickly. I’m so sorry.”
“It’s okay, Rosa—”
“This is your fault!” Aria shrieked. Aria pointed a finger at Rosa as she bustled into the foyer. “How could you leave him unattended after everything that has happened. You fucking—”
I grabbed onto Aria and put a hand over her mouth. “Bebita, now isn’t the time to be pointing fingers. You know this isn’t her fault. She loves him.”
Rosa stumbled back and let out a sob. “I’m so sorry.”
“Rosa, it isn’t your fault. Please, call Benny. We have cameras throughout the yard, and he knows how to access them. Call the police, as well,” I said soothingly. “Everyone needs to calm down.”
Rosa ran off toward the kitchen.
I let go of Aria and spun her around to face me. “Breathe, baby girl,” I murmured. I grabbed her face in my hands.
“I can’t!” Aria cried. “My baby, Ace. God, someone took my baby.” Aria fell into my arms. She sobbed against my chest.
I ran my fingers through her hair over and over again to try to calm her down. “We will find him,” I whispered in her ear.
“Find my baby,” Aria cried. Aria pulled away from me and pounded her fists against my chest. “Find my son, Ace!”
I placed my hands on each side of her neck and forced her to look at me. “I’m going to find him,” I promised. “If it’s the last thing I do, I swear.”
Tears fell from her eyes like I had never seen before. A kind of pain clouded her eyes that I had never seen before, not even when she gave birth to our son. Aria gave me a weak nod and buried her face into my chest again, and I supported her weight as she fell apart.
The police arrived and took statements from everyone. We had no choice but to lie about our whereabouts, but everyone told the same lie. We were prepared for situations such as these. Nobody had seen anything, not even the younger children.
Benny showed up, as well, and let the police see the footage of all the cameras that were spread throughout the yard. There wasn’t much on the cameras to go off of. Whoever had taken him had been smart about it — the person dressed in all black and wore a mask. The vehicle had no plates.
I sat beside Aria on the couch and rubbed her back soothingly. All of this stress wasn’t good on her. Pregnancy is difficult enough, let alone to have the stress of your son being kidnapped weighing on you.
The sun had gone down an hour ago, and we hadn’t heard anything. All of us felt as if we were walking on a sheet of thin ice.
Carlos sat at the desk beside Benny. The two of them had watched the tape from the cameras repeatedly.
We all looked up to see whose phone had rung.
Carlos rolled his eyes at the Caller ID but took the call. “This isn’t a good time—” Carlos started, but whoever was on the other end interrupted him. The blood drained from Carlos’s face. “You son of a bitch! What the hell have you done with my grandson?” Carlos shouted. Carlos’s face went from pale to tomato red.
Benny’s head snapped up, and his eyes widened.
Aria and I stood up quickly. I looked at Aria, and Aria looked up at me. We both looked back at Carlos and moved closer to hear better.