Mature (18+) Audiences. Contains bad words and sex-y scenarios.
Quick recap of Episode 9:
Xara heard when Mike’s shoes landed on the balcony floor. She heard the clinks and zips of him removing something, most likely climbing equipment, from the railing.
He went into the closet, there were more sounds, and then his warmth enveloped her from behind.
It was just as she’d expected, ever since the car ride.
Something was up.
The real reason he’d wanted to leave the club that night wasn’t because he was hungry. Someone had been there. Someone was watching them.
This job of his followed them everywhere, and she was about sick of it. Just once could there not be a scope aimed at her husband’s neck? Just once could there not be a red dot on his chest? Not even in fucking Maui?
He kissed the back of her head and dragged her closer.
At least, considering the way he touched her, he hadn’t killed anyone.
The most beautiful waters Xara had ever seen pooled around her. She couldn’t believe she was swimming in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. She couldn’t believe she was in Hawaii. And all the stars had aligned for their trip because so far, they’d had rain, but the showers only lasted a few hours before the gray clouds gave way to clear skies.
Mike swam up behind her and wrapped his arms around her waist. His lips went to the back of her head. At the rate they were going, and with how relaxed she felt, they’d be welcoming a baby before the end of the next year.
His fingers fumbled down near her hip.
“Are you trying to undo my bikini bottom ties?” she asked.
“Mhm.” His lips found her right shoulder. “You look amazing in this two-piece, Xar.”
The right ties, undone, wiggled on the surface of the water.
He started on the ties on the left and rubbed the hard column of his length along the seam of her butt. A few yards away, Val and Ant splashed each other, laughing and playing like kids. She didn’t think about bringing up the fact that Ant and Val could see them because that wouldn’t stop Mike once he was full steam ahead. Ayesha was supposed to be joining them in a few with the boys, so he probably wanted to get one in before they had a full crew.
The fabric slipped between her legs as he tugged it off from behind.
“I know for a fact this isn’t good for conception,” she said, eyes fluttering.
His laugh rumbled as he lowered to kiss the side of her neck. “This isn’t about making a baby. This is about fucking my wife.”
That shut her right up.
Mike positioned himself behind her. She closed her eyes and waited for the feel of him, thick, stretching her as he pushed in as deep as her body would allow.
He wrapped his hand around her ankle.
Xara, laughing, kicked her foot. “Baby, what are you doing? You can’t—”
Then, she was under the water.
Something, or someone dragged her under, and she was now watching the surface of the ocean grow farther and farther away. Mike, realizing what happened, dove under the water, toward her, but whatever held onto her ankle was an adept swimmer.
Xara kicked at the fingers. Instead of a descent, they were now moving laterally.
“Help!” She didn’t care that calling him would force her to swallow more water than she could manage. “Help me! Help me! He—”
“Xar, wake up.”
Xara opened her eyes and sprang up. The sudden change in position left her lightheaded, and Mike lowered next to her on the sofa to help keep her in place. Her head pounded. Even her breasts hurt.
“You okay?” he asked.
“Yeah.” She squeezed her forehead. “I was having a bad dream.”
“Want to tell me what you were dreaming about?”
She looked up, into his face. If something was wrong, and she could tell something was, why wouldn’t he tell her? Was it such a small deal that he didn’t think it was information that he needed to share? From what she understood, he’d taken down a member of a mafia family. There was no way that came without some form of retaliation.
“We’re ready!” Val appeared at the bottom of the steps. “Ant and I are ready to go zip lining when you guys are. He’s so excited.”
Ant came strolling down the stairs in a gray T-shirt and shorts, looking as fit as he looked in his football playing days. Xara’s gaze lowered to Val’s flat stomach, and she wondered how pregnancy would change her body. Val and Ant were a pretty active couple like her and Mike, but that didn’t mean hormones would affect her in the same way.
She leaned near Mike’s ear. “We’ll talk later.”
He kissed her temple. “Okay.”
“Let me go upstairs to wash my face and use the bathroom really quick,” she announced. “Then, we’ll be good to go.”
On her way up the stairs, it felt like there were still fingers around her ankle. She hated when dreams were so linear and vivid, they felt no different than real life. She preferred the ones that tossed in old elementary school teachers and unicorns and other arbitrary crap that let her know, off the bat, nothing was real.
She stepped into the bathroom, washed her hands, and splashed water on her face. Then, she felt a pang in her lower stomach. A twisting, cramping kind of pang.
“No.” She hurried to the toilet. “No, no, no.”
Her fucking period.
It was amazing to think that, once upon a time, she’d been more than thrilled to see it. With all the sex she and Mike had when they first left Kentucky—she’d made it a point to make sure he couldn’t even spell Natasha when she was through—and the fact that they weren’t as careful with birth control as they should have been, she’d expected to get pregnant every year. At least, every year until now. Maybe this was some sort of punishment for that carelessness.
She groaned, inserted a tampon, washed her hands again, and joined Val, Ant, and Mike downstairs. On her way down, Val’s gaze met hers. She didn’t have to blink, shake her head, throw up a gang sign…nothing. Val still picked up on the news.
This month was a bust.
Val let the men walk ahead and tossed her arm around Xara’s shoulders. “Better that it comes now so you guys have more time to try for the rest of your vacation,” she encouraged.
Xara nodded. “Yeah. I guess you’re right.”
* * *
The attendant helping Xara with her cable smiled up at her from where he crouched near her shins. “Don’t be nervous,” he encouraged, a Spanish accent weaving through his words.
He’d been flirting with her ever since they pulled up, and she knew Mike noticed. For her sake, he seemed to be holding back his compulsions. His gaze bore a hole through the side of the man’s curly head, but the fact that the man was still living had to mean something.
“Now, slip your leg through here,” the man, Roberto, said.
Xara did as she was told.
“You see how easy it is?” He caressed the back of her calf in what was supposed to be incidental contact, but seeing as how it was the third time it happened, she knew he was doing it on purpose.
Roberto stood. He was a few inches shorter than she was which put his gaze right in line with her breasts. He’d looked at them and licked his lips more than once.
Val and Ant were already halfway through their descent. She’d needed a bit more preparation considering she hadn’t expected to be this high in the air—there were treetops beneath their feet—and Mike had stayed behind with her.
“Now you are secure, see?” Roberto tugged on the cable. “You will be completely safe. No need to worry, beautiful.”
Mike walked over to them, grabbed Roberto by the back of the neck, and slammed his face into the side of the platform.
Xara tried for a scream but only managed a dry gasp.
While Roberto staggered, Mike unhooked the cable, switched a few attachments, and then replaced the largest hook. He turned around just as Roberto pulled out a pistol, jammed Roberto’s hand upward to throw off the shot the man didn’t have a chance to get off, and forced his palm into Roberto’s neck. Roberto fell, gasping for air, the pistol falling from his grip. Mike picked up the gun and all but tore it apart.
“Turn away,” he ordered.
It took a moment before Xara realized he was talking to her.
She spun around and faced the trees. Behind her, a struggle ensued. Then, she heard gurgling. She started to pivot when Mike’s voice rang out again, so harsh she tasted the bitterness.
“Don’t turn around.” He moved behind her. “He didn’t set it up right. You would have made it halfway through and when you got to that drop there,” he pointed across the way, “it would have come undone.”
“What?” She wished she could look at him. “Are you sure? How do you know?”
He laughed, but the sound held more darkness than mirth. “I do shit like this for a living, Xar. Why do you think I let his ass flirt with you?”
“Because you knew you were going to hurt him.”
“Kill him.” He kissed the side of her face. “Now, go. I’d go with you, but I don’t want Ant and Val knowing something’s up.”
“Won’t the company come looking for him?” she asked. “How do we explain—”
“He doesn’t work for any company.”
“So we were targeted.”
He pushed her off the ledge. The world around her whizzed by in a blur, Mike’s frame growing smaller and smaller in the distance. It was supposed to be an exhilarating experience, but she couldn’t enjoy it. The entire ride down to where Ant and Val waited, her mind created what she hadn’t seen—the blankness that always filtered into Mike’s eyes. The gurgling meant he’d either strangled the man or jammed something into his neck. Knowing Mike, a piece of that pistol.
I don’t know if I can do this.
I don’t know if I can do this.
Ant and Val waved when she came into sight. At the end of the line, Ant grabbed her and helped her down off the pulley.
“What kind of ghetto zipline company is this?” he asked. “They just put you on a clothesline and hope you know how to get off at the end?”
Xara plastered on a smile. “I guess.”
“Where’s Mike?” Val placed her hand over her eyes. “Oh, there he is. You guys took a while. What were you up there doing?”
Xara heard the gurgling again, faint, in the deepest part of her ear. “My cable. There was something wrong with it.”
“I’m glad they got that figured out then,” Val said. “I don’t know what I would do with myself if you ever got hurt.”
After Mike finished, they left the grounds and headed to get some dinner and shave ice. Then, they went back to the villa to rest before heading down to the beach. Xara wore a high-necked bikini top and shorts, popped a few Advil, and decided to stay on the sand rather than get in. Mike had that look in his eyes, so she let him have his space to dive and deescalate. They would talk later, however. If he thought he could tiptoe his way around what happened earlier, then he had no idea who he’d married.
A small pair of arms wrapped around her from behind.
“Hi, Auntie Xara.”
She leaned into Theo’s embrace. “Hey, little one.”
He gave her a quick squeeze and then ran, screaming, toward the water. A hug from Josiah came next and his approach to the beachfront was quieter but just as eager.
Ayesha settled next to her. “Hey, girl.”
Xara gave her a quick hug. “Your boys are just so freakin’ adorable. Does Theo ever slow down?”
“When he’s sleeping.” Ayesha’s attention went to where her sons swam. “Sometimes when he’s eating. I can barely keep up with him.”
“You were pretty young when you had Josiah, right?”
Ayesha leaned back on her arms. “Barely old enough to drink. He was a huge surprise.”
“Were you and Curtis already married?”
“Before Josiah?” She nodded. “Yes, but only on paper. No one knew. We did the courthouse thing like you and Mike, but we had a wedding after.”
There were times Xara did feel like she’d missed out on celebrating her and Mike’s union with a wedding, but she never regretted who she married. Not even on days like this. However, she was beginning to understand why this life had been so hard for Sydney. She couldn’t leave Mike if she tried, but she did understand a little better.
“Did Mike hurt somebody today?”
Xara’s gaze whipped over to Ayesha. “How do you know?”
She pointed to where the boys had introduced themselves to Ant and Val, the four of them now in the same vicinity. Mike was nearly a mile away, disappearing below and reappearing above the water’s surface, over and over.
“His coping mechanism is distance,” Ayesha pointed out. “I think Mike’s distancing is similar to Dez’s selective mutism.”
Larke hadn’t known how to deal with it at first. Mo pointed out that Giorgio did go quiet too, but he at least engaged by responding to questions. Dez, he shut all the way down after missions.
“Why does it happen?” Xara prodded, wanting to know more about how to navigate this effect the best way she could.
“The brain is in overdrive,” Ayesha explained. “Think about it like being in a really loud room for hours. By the time you get out, you’re so overwhelmed that basic functioning becomes difficult. Even a pin drop will drive you crazy.”
Xara pressed an index finger beneath her eyelid, stopping a tear before it fell. “This life is killing them.” Then, realizing her choice of words, she immediately apologized. “Oh, no. I didn’t mean it like that Ayesha.”
Ayesha waved her off. “You’re good, and you’re right. It’s why they’re talking about getting out.”
“I don’t know if that’ll be enough.” Mike disappeared from sight below the sparkling waters. “But, maybe it’ll help. Maybe if they do less of the high-intensity type of activity, they’ll normalize to some extent. Hell, maybe Syd and Joel will get back together.”
Ayesha lowered her eyes and passed sand between her fingers. “Maybe.”
“How’s he doing, by the way? Have you talked to him since you’ve been back home?”
“Yeah. He’s good.” She dusted off her hands. “You are Mike are due to see me soon, though. After…Val? And…Ant? After they leave, right?”
Xara nodded. “We want to spend as much time with them as possible while they’re here.”
“Any news on the baby front?”
“As of today, the month of trying has restarted.”
Ayesha nudged her shoulder. “I’m sorry. But, it’ll happen. I can feel it.”
Mike resurfaced near the shore and walked out of the water, hair matted to his face. Xara studied the way it lay against the top part of his shoulder, a little longer than he usually wore it.
“Hey, Eesh,” he greeted, tossing his hair back out of his eyes. Then, he turned to Xara. “Baby, can I talk to you a minute?”
Xara stood, dusted off her legs, and followed him to a secluded area of the beach. When he stopped walking, she faced him and crossed her arms over her chest. It was the only way to prevent her heart from trying to fly through it.
“There’s one more,” he said.
She cocked her head to the side. “One more what?”
“Hit man. Someone’s going to try to kill me at least one more time while we’re here.”
Realizing she was outnumbered, Ayesha went inside, slipped on a pair of sneakers to go with the shorts and tank she was already wearing, and joined them down on the soft, green lawn.
“Catch, Mama!” Theo yelled, and she barely had a chance to blink before she noticed the ball coming her way.
Joel stepped in front of her and caught it with one hand right before it collided with the side of her face. “You have to tell her it’s coming first, Theo,” he gently chided.
“I wath trying to trick her…if she catched it,” Theo admitted. “No handth, Mama.”
He tucked his hands behind his back to demonstrate.
Ayesha smiled at him, head shaking, and whispered to Joel, “Boy, I can’t wait until those teeth come in.”
“Right?” Joel bounced the ball from one hand to the other. “I don’t understand at least half of what he says, and he’s starting to realize it.”