My fists clenched at my sides as I tried to keep my emotions in check.
We had been so close to losing her again. I looked to where she had been tied up and saw drops of blood on the floor. Too many of them.
“She’s crying. What the fuck is going on over there?“. Aidan’s voice cut through the haze and my head snapped to where Lark was sitting. She and the woman who lured her into this trap were locked in what looked like an intense conversation.
I walked towards her with the guys on my heels, not caring if she wanted our help or not. “What’s wrong Lark, what did she do to you?“.
She looked up at me then and I saw that the tears in her eyes were not ones of pain. She was... happy about something.
“Nothing’s wrong Colt”, she said reassuringly before standing up and offering her hands to the other woman. The two of them stood close together. Much more familiar with each other than I would have expected considering the circumstances.
Her next words were so unexpected that it felt like someone knocked the wind out of me.
“This is my mother”, she spoke in a voice that sounded thick with unshed tears. “Her name is Nicola”.
Greyson, Aidan, and Luka immediately enveloped Lark in a congratulatory hug while I took a step back.
I could see on Lark’s face that she was happy. I could see that she believed this woman was her mother. After everything she’s been through, I wasn’t willing to take the risk of her being taken advantage of again.
“How do you know she’s your mother Lark?“, I asked as gently as possible. My hands gripped the straps of the vest, tightening their grip as Lark turned to face me.
“What are you getting at, Colt?“. Her arms were crossed over her chest and she looked at me in a way she never had before. Anger.
I sighed before raising my hand to gesture at Nicola. “24 hours ago she was your teacher. Now she’s your long-lost mother. You’ll excuse me if I don’t 100% trust her”.
Aidan shot me a look, one that I was familiar with, that said for me to shut my mouth. I wasn’t good at listening. “You don’t think it’s a bit convenient that after her partner gets killed she becomes someone else that would be able to get close to you?“.
The woman- Nicola, cut in then with more emotion than I thought she would have. “I was not his partner. I was his prisoner, and I did what I had to do to survive and find my child again. I had no idea who Emilia was all this time”.
“That is only half of it. I know this seems far-fetched but I believe her and I know she’s telling the truth. I feel it, Colt. Look at her for God’s sake. Look at her and tell me you don’t see the similarities”, Lark exclaimed.
I stared at her openly then, not bothering to hide the fact that I wanted to intimidate her.
She looked about the right age to be Lark’s mother. Similar hair coloring and bone structure. It was the eyes that caused me to reconsider for a moment though. They were an exact match. Still. People could look similar and have no relation to each other. “Just because she looks like you doesn’t mean she’s your mother”, I said with my chin raised.
Luka opened his mouth, but Lark cut him off first.
“Nicola let’s go. I want to get you to a hospital so someone can take a look at this bruising and make sure you’re ago”. She walked off with Nicola’s arm linked through hers, clipping my shoulder without glancing at me as she went past.
The two of them walked over to agent Delgado who was currently rounding up his team to do one last sweep of the property. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but I assumed she was asking him to get Nicola to the hospital.
The three of them walked out of the room and my fists clenched at my side.
“What is going on with you”, Luka finally asked me.
I whirled to face him and the rest of the guys. “What’s going on with me? Seriously? We don’t know anything about this woman and you guys are ready to accept that she’s her mother?“.
Greyson drug his hands through his hair before staring at me with a tired expression. “I trust Lark. Look at what she did tonight. What she has been doing for the past months. She knows how to protect herself and if she believes this woman I think we should damn well give her some credit”.
“You won’t be able to stop her from ever getting hurt again”, Aidan said softly as he put a hand on my shoulder. “She’s not going to let herself get hurt either, so you don’t need to be on protect mode 24/7".
I shook him off me and laughed sarcastically as I walked towards the door that Lark has gone through. “Clearly! Even when I do try to protect her, I fail”.
I made my way outside just as Lark was putting Nicola in a car. She shut the door after saying a few words that I couldn’t make out. When she turned around to see me standing there, she didn’t look happy. That fucking stung.
“What do you want, Colt?“, she asked as she made her way over to me.
“I’m just trying to look out for you. Why can’t you see that?“, I asked with my hands splayed out in front of me.
She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “I do see that. But in case you haven’t noticed I can take care of myself”.
I looked at her face. At the blood that hadn’t dried and the eye that was already started to look like a mess of purple, yellow, and blue. I looked at her and saw how much pain she had endured tonight. And then I lost it.
“You know what, Lark? You’re right. Fuck me for trying to help you”, I started to walk away from her down the alley, but she caught my hand in a tight grip.
“You’re mad at me now? I’m not the one who just interrogated me about my judgment skills and tried to intimidate my mother!“, she yelled.
“I’m not mad at you! I’m terrified of losing you! God damn it Lark you were taken. Again! And for the second time in my life, I had to feel complete terror because I didn’t know if you were dead”, I shouted back at her. I shook off her hand and started pacing. All these thoughts had been piling up in my head like a train crash, making me feel more and more explosive.
“Do you know what it’s like to have your heart feel like it’s going to fall out of your chest because some guy knocks on your door and tells you that the love of your life has been kidnapped?
Kidnapped by the same people who took her the first time and tortured her for nine years. And then”, I walked over to the wall and rested my head on it, “you find out that this guy is a part of the CIA and that he was working with the love of your life this whole time. But she didn’t tell you. She left you in the dark”.
Lark walked over to me then with so much sadness in her eyes that I thought it was going to kill me. It wasn’t until she reached up to wipe the tears off of my face that I realized I was crying. I couldn’t remember the last time I cried.
“I’m sorry”, I started, “about not trusting you with Nicola. I want to trust her too, but I won’t be able to handle it if you disappear again. The second time nearly broke me”.
I didn’t know how much I needed to feel her until she put her arms around my waist and rested her head on my chest. My arms came up to wrap her into me and I rested my cheek on her head.
“I’m sorry too”, she spoke quietly. “I should have told you. Told all of you. I’m just so used to only being able to rely on myself when it comes to my safety that I didn’t want to jeopardize my plan in any way”. She sighed and the movement of her breathing against me felt like heaven. “Saying it out loud, that sounds so stupid and I regret not filling you guys in. I’m so sorry for keeping you in the dark”.
She pulled back slightly to look up at my face. “I love you, Colt. I love you and I need you to not blame yourself for this. Or for what happened in the past. This wasn’t your fault”.
I really cried then. My whole body felt like it was shaking as I let her words wash over me because of course, she knew. I had always felt like if I had been older or stronger I could have stopped her from ever being taken. When she left me in the dark, it had felt like she blamed me too. Like I couldn’t be trusted to protect her.
For the first time in my life, I let someone else take care of me so I could let go of nine years’ worth of misplaced guilt and fear.