Chapter 4. Who's The Boss?
A week had passed since the incident at the club, and nothing had happened since. Austin and I had spent hours in the study over the week trying to figure out who it could be, but we didn’t come up with anything.
Austin sat on the red velvet couch across from my desk. A fire flickered in the fireplace behind me.
“I don’t get it, Austin. Whoever is doing this, there is no rhyme or reason to it,” I muttered darkly. “There doesn’t even seem to be a distinct pattern.”
“The fact that there is no pattern tells me the person is smart. I don’t know either, but for now, until we know what the fuck is going on, I don’t want you to go out by yourself. So, if you go out, you take someone with you,” Austin said sternly.
“Excuse me? Who’s the boss?” I huffed. I dropped my pen and crossed my arms over my chest.
“Me.” His tone was a matter of fact. “You don’t leave without someone. It’s for your own safety, Aria. Whoever the hell was at that club damn near succeeded in killing you.”
I snorted and rolled my eyes. “Whatever.”
“I mean it, Aria. Being a hero will only get you killed. Do you get me?” Austin jabbed a finger at me. His eyebrows knitted together, and his jaw clenched.
“I get it,” I said and sighed. “So, what are you all dolled up for?” Curiosity seeped into my voice even though I tried to hide it. I had a sneaking suspicion Austin is going out with Carley.
“I got a hot date.” Austin winked at me and smirked.
“Hm,” I hummed. My pen clinked as I tapped it on the desk. Do I dare ask? It’s not like Austin is open about relationship stuff, and it isn’t my business. Screw it. I’m dying to know. “Could that hot date be a curvy, short, blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl?” I teased.
Austin flashed a set of perfect white teeth at me. “Maybe. . .” Austin trailed off.
A smile spread across my lips. I better not push him any further. “Have a good time.”
“Mm, I’m going to have a fucking blast,” he said and chuckled.
A chuckle escaped me. “See you later.”
Austin got to his feet. “See you. Don’t go out.” He pointed a finger at me and gave me a stern look.
“Yeah, yeah,” I muttered.
Austin strolled out of the study.
It wasn’t like I wanted to go out anyway. I needed to stay in and get my paperwork done. I spent more time trying to find out who my attacker is than on the jobs that needed to be done.
My computer dinged, and I glanced up at it. The southside warehouse alarm had been set off.
“Fuck,” I said under my breath.
I grabbed my phone to call Luis. Luis didn’t answer.
After I attempted to reach out to all the boys and failed, I gave up. Well, who the hell needs them anyway?
Andersen hummed a tune as he dusted a vase off in the foyer.
“Andersen,” I paused.
Andersen looked up at me. “Yes, Aria?”
“I’m going to the southside warehouse. The alarm has gone off. If anyone looks for me, let them know where I am. Also, if I don’t get back in an hour, find Austin,” I said sternly. I slid my arms through my leather jacket and fanned my hair out from beneath it with my hands.
Andersen’s forehead creased with worry. “Austin said you shouldn’t leave by yourself because of the recent incidents. Would you like me to accompany you? Or have you called to see if Carlos could go?”
“That isn’t necessary, Andersen. It went off a few nights ago because a rat chewed through the wire. I’m sure it’s nothing,” I explained. I grabbed my keys off the key rack.
“Are you sure?” Andersen pressed.
“I’m sure,” I said. I pecked Andersen’s cheek and turned for the front door.
“Be safe, kid,” Andersen called after me.
I pulled out of the driveway. I had a gun in my gun holster and several knives on me.
The warehouse was empty, and a wire had been cut to make the alarm go off. I walked to the back of the building to see if I missed anything.
A ticking noise alerted me. I dashed toward the sound and moved objects out of my way as I went. The noise came from inside one of the gun cases. A bomb sat in one of the gun crates, and it would go off in fifteen seconds.
My heart stopped and picked back up at double its regular speed. I wasn’t an idiot, but I couldn’t dismantle this complex of a bomb. I had only been taught how to dismantle small ones. It was something I was learning from Benny before Ace, and he disappeared.
“Fuck!” I screamed. It’s a setup. I turned and raced for the back door of the warehouse. I knew I wouldn’t reach the front door in time.
I got approximately ten feet from the warehouse when it exploded. I threw my arms over my head and dropped to the ground. I was so close to the explosion that the heat of it smothered my entire body. Something hard hit my hand, which had luckily been protecting the back of my head. A groan escaped me, and the ringing in my ears simmered down to a buzz.
“Son of a bitch,” I gasped. My vision blurred, but through the smoke, I saw something move.
The hooded figure from the club came into view. The person held a knife up.
My eyes widened. The explosion caused me to see double, which would surely slow me down. I turned away from him on my hands and knees to get away from him.
Before I could get to my feet, a sharp burning pain spread through my lower leg, where the knife entered.
“Bastard!” I hissed.
Instead of running, I turned and held my gun up and shot at the figure. The bullet struck the person in the chest. A groan escaped the person. They pulled their gun up to shoot at me.
My heart sank into my stomach, and I turned to run. The smoke from the explosion made it impossible to see more than a few feet ahead of me. The figure shot at me but missed. Pain surged through me as I ran on my wounded leg.
Once in my car, the figure ran out from behind the building and fired again. The shot ricocheted off my windshield as I ducked. My windshield didn’t shatter because it was bulletproof glass.
I threw the car in reverse and backed quickly away. Gunshots continued to hit my car, and lucky for me my tires weren’t shot.
My car hit the highway, and I sped back toward home. I wasn’t sure who the fuck the person was, but he or she must have had a bulletproof vest on, and I had nothing.
Normally I wouldn’t run, I didn’t scare easily, but I had no protection. The pain in my right leg made it hard to even drive. The knife stuck out of the back of my leg, and my leg shook.
I hobbled my way into the foyer.
Rosa took in my faint expression and the blood that ran down my leg. “Oh my god!” she squealed.
“Rosa, find someone,” I said breathlessly. My eyelids grew heavy. “Austin, dad, or Andersen.” The blood loss made me weaker with every passing moment. Rosa helped me sit down on a chair in the foyer. I groaned in pain.
Rosa frantically took off up the stairs to find some help.
After several moments I heard someone call out my name. “Aria?”
I looked up.
Austin ran down the stairs as he put a shirt on. Austin’s expression twisted in horror and shock.
Carley followed him.
“Damn it!” Austin spat. “What happened?”
“Whoever it was got my leg, it hurts,” I murmured. “I went to the southside warehouse. There was someone there. The warehouse exploded. When I got outside, I saw the figure. The person threw a knife at me and got my leg. I shot at the person, but nothing happened. They must have been wearing a vest.”
“You went alone, didn’t you? After I specifically told you not to!” Austin shouted.
“Nobody fucking answered me, okay?” I retorted. “I didn’t want Andersen or Dad going out. They’ve been nearly killed enough fucking times!”
“Let me see, hon,” Carley said. She knelt down by my leg. Carley had been in medical school for quite some time. She wanted to become a surgeon. She had already worked in hospitals. “If you got some stuff here, I could probably stitch you up,” Carley said.
“Bathroom down the hall,” I said.
Carley nodded. “Austin, take her to the living room and lay her down on the couch or something.”
Austin lifted me bridal style and walked towards the living room.
“Sorry for being a cock block,” I said.
Austin chuckled and kissed my forehead. “I forgive you, but for real, that is exactly what you are.”
A giggle escaped me as he lowered me down onto the couch. “I’m totally rooting for you two, though,” I said.
Austin plopped down in a chair beside the couch, which faced me. “We’ll see how it goes,” he said and shrugged. Austin wasn’t much for the emotional stuff. However, I could tell from the way he looked at Carley that he liked her. I had a suspicion he and Carley had been seeing each other longer than this one night.
“I’m nosy,” I started.
Austin nodded in agreement. “Extremely. What do you want?” he muttered.
I laughed. “How long?”
“What? Carley and me?”
“Obviously.” I rolled my eyes.
“I don’t know,” Austin said and shrugged. “A couple of weeks, I guess. Why?”
“You two seem to have a lot of chemistry for just a couple of weeks,” I said. My eyes burned with curiosity.
Austin stared at me for a long moment and sighed. “Carley and I dated when we were younger. A long time ago. Actually. . . We sort of took each other’s virginity,” Austin said. He laid his head against the back of the chair and stared at the ceiling. His jaw moved from the gum he chewed. “So, I can see how it would seem that way.”
“What?” I screeched. I lurched into a sitting position. Shock didn’t begin to cover it. I didn’t expect that at all. I had known them both for years and had no idea.
“Damn, Aria, shut the fuck up!” Austin hissed. Austin grabbed a pillow from behind his back and threw it at my face.
I huffed and threw the pillow back at Austin. “You can’t just tell me something like that and expect me not to wig out!” I whisper-shouted.
Austin chuckled. “Well, now you know, zip it.”
“Did Jax know?” I asked. That had to be awkward. Jax and Austin were good friends. From what I understood, Jax was close to Austin the way that Ace was close to Luis.
“Yeah, Jax knew. All of our friends knew that Carley and I dated. Jax and Carley didn’t get together until six months after she and I broke up. It wasn’t any big secret. I mean, we didn’t talk about it all the time,” he explained.
“Did you care about her?” I laid back down and stared at him, confused.
“Yeah, a lot,” he admitted.
“Then wait, why did you guys split up?”
“Are you writing a book?” Sarcasm colored his tone, and he tilted his head.
“I’m curious. I can’t help it. This is news to me. I’ve never heard any of this,” I said and shrugged.
“That is because it is ancient history and doesn’t matter,” Austin scoffed.
I stared back at him blankly.
Austin sighed. “I was a little asshole, okay? Carley told me she loved me, and I broke it off.”
“Wow, you are a fucking asshole,” I muttered darkly. “It’s a wonder she even trusts you enough to give you a second chance.”
“Thanks,” Austin muttered. Regret clouded his eyes. “Trust me; I know that. I was scared. We were so young, and for years, I was afraid of commitment. Besides, when I did finally commit, look at what fucking happened.” Austin threw his arms in the air.
I snorted. “That’s a good point, but you just committed to the wrong girl. So what? It happens. Maybe you and Carley were meant to be or something. Did you love her?”
Austin bit down on his lip. “I never believed in that whole one true love shit. Of course, neither did Ace until he met you. I did love her, but when I realized it, it was way too fucking late.”
“What do you mean? It’s never too late to tell someone how you feel. I think you just like to make excuses, so you don’t have to tell anyone how you feel. You need to quit that.”
“It’s not like that, Aria,” Austin said and rolled his eyes. “By the time I realized it, Carley had been with Jackson for a few months, and they were pretty serious. Jax was one of my best friends. He came to me and told me he wanted to ask her out a few months after I broke it off. I told him to go for it. There was no way in hell I was going to come between them, not after that.”
“Your realizations hit you too little too late, don’t they?”
Austin stared at me for a long moment. “I guess they do.” Austin knew I was referring to him and Ace. Once upon a time, Austin had a thing for me too, but he knew Ace did, and he left me alone. “It was different with you. Ace and I both liked you at the same time. It was a bit fucked up. Ace acted on it before I did, though. At a point in time, though, I told Ace to pull his head out of his ass, or I’d go after you. Needless to say, Ace pulled his head out of his ass,” Austin said and chuckled.
“What you felt toward me wasn’t as strong as with Carley.” Confidence filled my voice.
“Right, I never was sure with you because it never went anywhere. I invested time into Carley,” he explained. “Can I ask you one thing?”
I nodded in response.
“If I had asked you out before Ace, what would you have said?” Curiosity burned in his eyes.
It took me a long time to answer because I wanted to give him an honest answer. “I think that I would have said no. The only guy I ever noticed at all was Ace. But I think it might have depended on how persistent you were. There is definitely something that binds me and you together. Do you know what I mean? It’s hard to explain, but I grew a stronger bond with you than any of the others apart from Ace. Maybe that is because of how similar you two are.”
“Besties for life?” Austin grinned widely.
“Damn straight, homie.” I smirked and wiggled my eyebrows.
Austin and I would never know what would have happened if he had come after me before Ace. Some part of me saw what I could have had with Austin, but then there would be no Ace. The thought of not ever having Ace hurt so much that I pushed the idea away. If Austin and I were meant to be, it would have worked out that way in the beginning. What we felt now is nothing but friendship.
Carley came in with the first aid kit. “God, that fucking bathroom is huge. I had to have Andersen find it,” she said. “I’m so sorry.”
I laughed. “It’s okay. Thanks, Carley.”
“No problem,” she said. “This is going to hurt.”
“Yank it,” I grunted. I threw a pillow over my face.
Carley pulled the knife out. It felt like my leg had been cut off. I cried in pain, but the sound was muted from the pillow.