Mature (18+) Audiences. Contains bad words and sex-y scenarios.
“You guys are going to love it here,” Ayesha said, her silver Land Rover Discovery’s lights blinking as they neared the vehicle. Mike had arranged for his and Xara’s things to be sent ahead to their villa out on the coast of Kapalua Bay while Ayesha picked them up to take them to her place for lunch.
He was a little guilty knowing how long it had been since he’d traveled to Maui, especially after they’d all promised Curtis that if anything ever happened to him, they would take care of Ayesha and what Curtis hadn’t known was his two sons.
She never got the chance to tell him they were expecting Theo.
For a while after Curtis’ death, Ayesha didn’t speak to them. She didn’t want anything to do with them, and none of them had blamed her. They’d had each other; she’d had no one. Her parents passed away when she was young and the aunt who raised her passed away two years after she married Curtis. However, when Theo was born, there was no way they were going to let her raise two young boys alone. They all flew out to meet the little guy, and Ayesha slowly let them back into her life from that point on.
Theo was currently on Mike’s back. Josiah walked next to his mother, already past her height, his face tilted down toward a tablet screen. He looked so much like Curtis, it was eerie, and considering that instead of playing a game he was reading a book, he’d inherited his father’s personality.
“So, Josiah,” Xara said, hurrying to fall into step next to him, “what are you reading?”
She was still new to the group, and as much as everyone had welcomed her with warmth and open arms, there were times it was obvious she felt awkward.
Josiah looked over at her and smiled. “It’s called Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky, Aunt Xara. It’s really good.”
Mike was so attuned to Xara’s expressions, he knew that when she smiled back at Josiah, it was because the boy had referred to her as his aunt.
“I was really into the Percy Jackson books,” Josiah went on. “Ma told me that my Dad liked to read too.”
Mike let Theo down off his back and opened the Rover’s back door. “He did,” he said. “I remember the first time I met him. He was always cracking jokes, reading books, and talking about how much he missed your Mom.”
He glanced at Ayesha.
She smiled and lowered her eyes.
“I look like him.” Josiah tucked his tablet and climbed into the SUV. “I’ve been looking at his pictures and I look a lot like him.” He shrugged. “At least, I think so. Joel does too.”
Theo scrambled in, and Mike secured the third-row seat before climbing in the second row in front of it.
Xara sat up front with Ayesha.
Ayesha pressed the ignition button. “Don’t forget your special vest, Theo,” she reminded, looking at her son in the rearview mirror.
Theo searched the floor in front of him, pulled up a navy-blue vest, and slipped his arms through the holes.
“I’m thomefing of a thuperhero,” he boasted, his missing front teeth altering his speech so that it sounded like he placed the letter F and Th in front of and between his words. “Mama thays I haff to wear a thpecial weighted fhest tho I don’t go fying away like I used to do at thchool.”
He pulled down a table attached to the seat ahead of him and grabbed a coloring book and crayons from a pouch next to it.
“He’ll forget we’re here once he starts in on his coloring.” Ayesha pulled out onto the road. “The drive’s not too long, so that’ll be enough to keep him stimulated.”
“How’s he been doing?” Mike asked, arms splayed along the back of the seat. The realization that he and Xara were truly on vacation was starting to sink in.
“Better.” Ayesha lowered her voice. “To clue you in, Xara, Theo’s a little more ‘fidgety’ than his classmates.”
Xara nodded. “I understand.”
Mike rolled his shoulders and sank further into his seat. Outside, the sun was high in the sky but it wasn’t hot or muggy. Palm trees bordered the sides of the roads in some places, thick trees with plumes of leaves in others. Xara gasped every few seconds because she either spotted tropical fruit or was in awe of the rock walls that cased in the roads.
Although they couldn’t see it yet, there was a sense that the ocean was always there. Ayesha drove with the windows down, so when there was a break in the tree line, the sound of waves filtered into the interior of the vehicle.
“This is amazing.” Fiber by fiber, Mike’s muscles relaxed. “Thanks for the suggestion, Eesh.”
“No problem.” She glanced at him in the rearview mirror. “But, to be honest, I suggest getting away for nearly all the couples I meet who still have strong marriages but the daily stress of life is getting in the way. We don’t realize how much city lights, car exhaust, and just being away from trees and water can impact us.”
“That sounds like you’ll never leave, Hawaii.”
She laughed. “I used to say that, but I…I don’t know. Things have been weird for me lately.”
Mike’s phone buzzed in his pocket. He pulled it out to find a message from Julien.
“How’s that?” he heard Xara ask.
MEET AT ESHA’S.
ACQUAINTANCE OF POZZA.
INFO ON SARAYEV.
He looked up into Xara’s eyes. “Hmm?”
She squinted at him, took a quick look at the phone, and faced forward without repeating whatever question it was she’d asked.
“Uncle Mike?” Josiah called, his changing voice breaking slightly. “Are you really a shadow?”
Mike nearly choked on his saliva. “A…shadow?”
“Yeah. I remember Dad telling me that about you. I mean, I was like four or five so I might not be remembering everything correctly, but he said you were like Spiderman.”
Mike coughed into his elbow. “Uh, well—“
“Thpiderman?” Theo’s head popped up. “Uncle Mike is Thpiderman?”
“He’s like him,” Josiah corrected. “Like, he can climb tall buildings and get into places nobody else can. At least, that’s what Dad said. He said that one time, you climbed up the side of a building that had like twenty floors without any kind of rope or anything.”
Xara dragged her palm down her neck, another expression he knew—she was on the verge of a heart attack.
“I had a rope.” He didn’t. “And it was only a five-story building.” It was thirty floors.
“And he said you jumped out of a helicopter and didn’t know you had a busted chute.”
Xara’s chest heaved, her face going pale.
“It wasn’t busted,” Mike said, hoping it appeased her anxiety, even just a little. “I mean, yeah, it didn’t open at the right altitude, but I was fine. There really wasn’t anything to worry about.” There was, however, a short period during the time the mechanism on the chute broke that he did think he was going to die. “No big deal.”
“That’s so cool.” Josiah grinned. “I want to do that.”
Ayesha jumped in. “Let’s table that discussion for another day. You still have a lot of time to think about what you want to do with your life.”
“Who’th that guy?” Theo asked. “He’th thcary looking.”
Mike looked out the window. A man was perched on the rim of the back of a pickup truck. One look at him, and he knew it was Julien’s contact.
“It’s rude to stare,” Josiah scolded his brother.
“Okay.” Theo shrugged and went back to his coloring. “Thtill thcary. Like Uncle Gio.”
“Uncle Gio’s not scary. He wouldn’t hurt us.”
Theo didn’t look up, wrist flicking a red crayon across the outline of a desert landscape. “Not uth…but he’th hurfing thomebody.”
Mike couldn’t help but smile.
Ayesha turned into a neighborhood where they passed homes sitting in the middle of spacious yards. They passed a guard that waved and opened a gate, and they drove a little farther before the house came into view.
A long strip led them right into the circular driveway at the front of the house. More palm trees towered high above the roofline in front of tropical shrubbery that bordered the front walkway. The garage door lifted and Ayesha pulled the SUV inside. A pang hit the center of Mike’s abdomen when he realized her vehicle was the only one in the three-car stall.
The exterior door in the garage deposited them in the kitchen. Recessed lights in the high, beamed ceiling made the space look massive. A modern kitchen overlooked a seating area with white furniture, and the white was offset by colorful pillows and accents in nooks, on bookcases, and on the coffee table. Enormous sliding glass doors opened to a large patio and an amazing beach view, the mountains as the water’s backdrop.
“You guys can take a look around, hang out.” Ayesha set down her purse and keys. “I’ll get lunch started.”
“Actually, I have to make a call.” Mike held up his phone. “I have to check in with Julien about something.”
Xara and Ayesha eyed him. Xara was curious. Ayesha was concerned.
“Everything okay?” Ayesha asked.
“Yeah, yeah.” He headed out the patio doors. “Everything’s fine.”
He jogged down the steps at the side of the patio into a big backyard that looked like a pasture. Only in the tropics could grass be this green, naturally. A month might not truly be long enough of a vacation for the kind of stress he and Xara were trying to tamp down.
When he reached a dense area of trees and grass, a voice called out to him.
“The Shadow in the flesh and blood.” A tall man with dark hair pulled back into a half ponytail stepped from between the trees. “I am assuming I saw you coming because you wanted me to?”
“Dominik,” Mike greeted. They slapped hands. “I’m surprised you’re an acquaintance of Pozza’s. I didn’t know he had acquaintances.”
“Acquaintance?” Dominik laughed, shoulders shaking. Having gone to school in the U.S., he only had an accent when he was speaking to family, another Russian speaker, or wanted to intimidate. “We have an actual document that says ‘the Russian Mafia will not interfere with the movements of Giorgio Pozza.’ Without it,” he held up a scarred forearm, wrist, palm, and tilted his head to show a long scar on his neck, “I would be dead.”
Considering how deadly Dominik was on his own, it said a lot about Giorgio that he’d left the man with that many “reminders.”
“Sarayev,” Mike prefaced. “From what I understand, there’s a Chechen Mafia?”
“They’re small, but yes. After Chechnya gained its independence, the republic got chaotic as shit. Criminal organizations rose in power, and the Sarayev tiep, or clan, is one of the oldest and largest. They got into arms trafficking, oil smuggling. Had some Islamic extremist ties.”
Mike glanced back at the house to make sure Xara hadn’t come looking for him. At least, not yet.
“What do you know about Mosvar Sarayev?”
“Little bitch.” Dominik growled out a laugh. “Textbook definition of a pussy. Ramszyn Sarayev is the head. Argun and Mosvar are his two sons.”
“Were,” Mike corrected.
“I heard about that.” Dominik raised a brow. “You have something to do with that? Actually,” he held up a hand, “doesn’t matter. Makes my job easier. Anyhow, there’s no expectation for Ramszyn to hand the mantle over to Mosvar. Not without the son doing something big.”
Like killing his brother’s killer.
Mike smirked. “Should I be worried?”
Dominik ground out another laugh. “A normal man, yes. You? No. We keep surveillance on the Chechens. They sometimes think they have the balls to go up against the Bratva.” His accent rang out, deep, with the mention of the word. “But I did overhear that little Mos has been shopping for a hired killer.”
Mike stretched the muscles in his neck and glanced toward the house a second time. Xara was now on the patio, hand shielding her eyes as she looked out into the green.
“So much for a fucking vacation,” Mike said. They slapped hands again. “‘Preciate the information, but I have to go before I no longer have a wife to spend my time on Maui with.”
Dominik looked in Xara’s direction. “No problem. And yeah, you do that. You do that.”
“I thought you like dangerous men,” he teased. “Arch your back a little bit more, Xar.”