Mature (18+) Audiences. Contains bad words and sex-y scenarios.
Julien eyed the two men on the giant screen on the wall in front of him. “So, nothing.”
“Maybe Mike went dark,” Gage said. “Turned off his devices. They went down there to de-stress. Having blokes in your ear, all the time, can be stressful.”
“The comm links I understand,” Dez said, “but the watch too? If something happens, we can’t find him, and he’s off in Maui by himself when there’s a whole damn price on his head. We try not to get that isolated. At least, except for my two years of shit. Even then, everybody still knew where I was.”
A small voice off-camera yelled, “Shit!”
Dez bent. “Monroe, baby girl, don’t say that. Your mother will kill me.”
He sighed, face reappearing. “Maybe one of us can go check things out.”
“Joel can do it,” Julien volunteered. “He’s already in Maui.”
Silence moved through each of the rooms with the exception of Monroe banging her toys and singing near Dez’s microphone. Gage and Dez glanced at each other from their own screens.
“Joel’s in Maui?” Dez asked. “Why?”
“You know who lives in Maui?” Gage asked. “Told you, mate. He’s sweet on Ayesha.”
“Shit, Dada! Shit, shit, shit!”
Julien grinned. “How close is Monroe to the speaker?”
“She’s playing right next to my leg.” Dez looked down. “She does that, sits next to my foot to play. Holds my thumb when she’s sleeping. Daddy’s girl. Isn’t that right, sweetheart?”
Monroe garbled a response.
“Jesus, look at your hair. Your mother is going to kill me when she gets home.” He raised his head. “If Joel’s with Eesh, we can just call him and have him go check things out at Mike’s.”
Julien shared his screen of a blank, unblinking map of Maui. “He’s off the grid too. I don’t think we’re supposed to know he’s there, which is why I haven’t called Ayesha yet. Only reason I know is because Syd called Ari for Ayesha’s address. Apparently, she’s going down to see Joel.”
“That…could be a problem.” Gage rubbed the back of his neck. “I know they’ve been split up a while, but if she’s going to see him, maybe there’s still something going on.”
“But we could be wrong,” Dez suggested. “Maybe they’re just hanging out. I mean, it would be like if you guys found out I was visiting like, Mo, or somebody.”
“Never mind.” Dez stretched the muscles in his neck. “I’m over here getting killed by Pozza in my own fucking imagination.”
“Monroe, baby, no.” Dez’s face paled. “Please. Not that one. I’d like to live to see your second birthday.”
“What about the cameras around the villa?” Gage asked. “Even the edge of property ones.”
Julien pulled up a black screen that should have been shots of the villa’s exterior. “All disabled, but only Mike would be able to lock me out.”
The entire mood changed.
“Something doesn’t feel right,” Gage said.
A distress signal notification passed over their screens. Mike’s watch had been turned back on, and it showed he was in Lahaina, Maui a few miles from the villa.
Julien rose. “Start packing.”
* * *
Xara picked up two pregnancy tests and tossed them into the basket in Mike’s grip. Her buying pregnancy tests these days wasn’t unusual, so he didn’t so much as look to see what she’d dropped in the basket as soon as they headed down this particular aisle.
This time, the biggest difference when she took this test would be her period. Her light, light period that had only lasted two days. She didn’t realize until she and Mike made love in the car after the carnival that she should have been on one of the last days of her period.
This was it.
She could be pregnant.
As of today—she did a quick calculation—she would be a little over a month late. An entire month, and she hadn’t realized it, considering her husband was killing mafia members.
Her breasts were tender, and she was in the bathroom more than usual, even if she didn’t drink a ton of water.
She’d never taken a pregnancy test before with these symptoms.
“You want some M&Ms?” He pointed to a yellow packet.
She scrunched her nose. “No, not tonight.”
“No M&Ms?” He stepped back and looked at her like he’d never seen her before. “These are the only candy you’ll treat yourself to because they don’t have as much of an impact on your blood sugar. You love M&Ms.”
“Right now, I don’t.” She chuckled. “Come on. Let’s go check out and get back.”
Today was their stay-at-home-and-relax day. They’d gone ziplining, swimming, snorkeling, hiking, and on a few boat tours. She’d had to watch Mike fish since, once her line had started reeling with a catch, she dropped the whole rod into the depths of the ocean.
They were long overdue for a simple day at “home,” so they’d spent the morning lazing around—she napped twice while he worked on his gadgets. He remained shirtless and wore gray sweatpants while he worked. She’d managed to stick her foot into some leggings and toss on one of his shirts. Once the sun began to set, they went down to the nearest drugstore to pick up the tests and a few ingredients he needed to make dinner. They had service staff, but he wanted to cook for them tonight.
“I’m going upstairs to take a cat nap while you cook,” she said, yawning as they entered the villa from the garage.
“Again?” He set the paper shopping bag on the counter. “Maybe take one of those tests while you’re up there? In the books I read, they said fatigue is an early sign of pregnancy and you’ve slept all day today. We had sex after the carnival when you should have still been on your period, and when I play with your breasts now, you cringe sometimes like they hurt.”
When she didn’t respond, he looked up.
“What?” He removed fresh ginger root from the bag. “We’ve been at this for a while, Xar. And I pay attention, especially when your ta-tas are involved.”
She laughed and headed upstairs, lead in her stomach. She’d read comments, articles, and message board posts where women who’d tried to conceive for months shared that something had told them when it was the moment—the day the test would return positive. She felt that now. It was what she wanted, more than anything, but she was still nervous about what would happen afterward if those two lines showed up.
She grabbed one of the tests, disappeared in the bathroom, and trembled so much she nearly dropped it in the toilet. When she was finished, she set it on the countertop and washed her still shaking hands, soap flickering up near her face.
“You done?” Mike called from outside the door.
She stepped out, shut the door behind her, and leaned against it. “I don’t know yet. It’s still…processing.”
“Xar, what if we’re going to be…” He frowned and closed his eyes.
Then, he pushed her down to the floor, seconds before the windows in the bedroom shattered.
Her knowledge of the sound of a gunshot was limited to a few instances—the time she’d spent at a gun range, and the one time she’d fired a gun at the man who’d killed Mike’s parents. At the gun range, the shots had been muffled and distorted. With Fang Jinhai, she’d nearly burst an eardrum.
Some of these shots sounded almost innocuous as they bounced off the bed frame, curtain rods, and drawer handles with little pings and pews. However, the ones that turned the TV screen into a spider web, destroyed so much glass it brought outside into their bedroom, and left gaping tears in the walls…those would stay with her for a while.
“We have to move,” Mike yelled, palms flat on the floor, his body covering hers. “Stay low, and only move when I tell you to.”
She nodded, and he directed her to the spot where he wanted her to go next.
On his cue, Xara darted. A bullet grazed the back of her calf, but it went through her leggings without so much as caressing her skin.
When she reached the side of the dresser, she turned and placed her back against the wall.
“Hit the side of that dresser,” Mike instructed. “Right where that slight deviation is in the finish. Hit it hard with the side of your fist.”
She did as she was told.
A gun fell through the bottom, and she didn’t wait for him to tell her to grab it and slide it across to him.
Once he had it in hand, he made his way to the glass doors, now shattered, that led to the balcony. For a slight moment, she was amazed by how swiftly yet cautiously he moved, limbs like a large cat, all working together in sync to get him to his next destination. It was that agility that made him good at what he did, but this was the first time she’d ever seen it in action. He’d tossed on a black shirt before they left for the drugstore, and it now provided him a bit of extra camouflage against the night.
He went prone, on his belly, jerked away a piece of the balcony wall that she would have never been able to distinguish from the rest of the pattern, and peered through. After a quick look, he fired. Several times. With each shot, she jumped until she eventually had to cover her ears. The moment didn’t last long, but it felt like she’d waited years to lift her hands once silence blanketed the room.
“Is that all?” she whispered.
He crept over to her. “No. There’s more.”
“A lot more?”
The look on his face made her mouth water in preparation of vomit.
“Xara, if I—”
“Nope. Stop.” She shook her head, swallowing. “Don’t want to hear it.”
“Your safety is my priority. I’ll do anything to ensure it, even if it kills me.”
A loud thud sounded downstairs.
“It’s the front door,” he said. “Stay behind me.”
“Why would they come through the front door?”
“Because I’m supposed to know who’s here.”
Once they were in the hallway where there were no windows, he stood and pulled her onto her feet. She held onto the wall for support; her legs only had a few more steps in them before they were rendered completely useless.
“Liu Wei! I believe we have some chatting to do. My name is Ramzsyn Sarayev. I had a son named Argun. You have met him, yes?”
Mike checked the clip on the gun, frowning. “That’s Ramzsyn down there? Thought it would be the little punk ass bitch, Mosvar.”
“That’s what you’re concerned about right now?” Xara asked.
“I know you are with a woman named Xara Merritt,” Ramzsyn went on. “She is your wife, and I know you will want to protect her with your life.”
“Man, stop with the fucking bullshit,” Mike yelled back, and Xara nearly passed out. He tossed the initial gun, reached behind a painting on the wall, and pulled out another, larger one. “All I need to know is, are you a man of your word, Ramzsyn Sarayev?”
“It’s the only code I live by,” Ramszyn replied.
“You want me for killing your son, right? I mean, it wasn’t the one I was going for, but I guess shit happens.” He loaded the new gun. “If you’re a man of your word, promise me my wife won’t get hurt if I step out there right now.”
Xara tugged the back of Mike’s shirt. “Mike, you can’t trust—”
“That’s my only offer, and it has a shelf life of four seconds.”
“What if I say no?” Ramzsyn asked. “I have more men than you can handle, Liu Wei. I can kill you both.”
“You kill women?”
Ramzsyn laughed. “If they are a threat.”
“Do you kill children?”
The man was silent for a moment. “She is pregnant.”
“Just answer the question, motherfucker.”
This was how not to negotiate for one’s life. Mike was going to get them both killed. Then again, maybe that was his plan. They’d both sail into the afterlife together. He did say he didn’t want to live without her. She didn’t exactly have this in mind, but the shoe fit.
“I do not,” Ramzsyn asserted. “I do not kill pregnant women, either. I had no issue with you, my friend, until you took my son’s life.”
“You have one more son.”
“Mosvar?” Ramzsyn released a derisive snort that echoed. “Mosvar is as useful as a tick in a deer’s hide. Trust me, I would not be here if he was the son you had killed.”
Mike glanced back at Xara. “Isn’t that a fucked up thing to say, baby?”
“Mike, please, dear God, Almighty, for all that is holy. How are you this calm right now?”
“Calm means a clear head.” He tapped his temple—with the nozzle of the fucking gun—and she knew then all traces of her husband had left. “And I need a clear head right now, Xar.”
“What is your proposition, Liu Wei? If I spare your wife and child, you will give yourself up?”
“I need your word, King Midas.”
“Fine then. You have my word.”
Ramzsyn let out a curse. Xara didn’t speak a lick of the man’s language, but she knew a curse when she heard one. Then, on Mike’s face, she saw the tiniest, smallest, nearly minuscular flash of relief.
The shots started up again, but they weren’t being directed at the stairs or anywhere in their vicinity.
“What’s going on?” she asked. “Is someone down there?”
He didn’t answer.
All the lights in the house went out, and the only way she knew Mike was still in front of her was his deep and slow breaths, the warmth of his body, and his shadow along the wall.
She’d heard the men use the name in passing, but whenever she asked him about it, he pretended he didn’t know what she was talking about. Now, she knew. He’d spent a good portion of his life in the dark. Most of the trauma he’d experienced had been done in the dark. When the lights went out and when the moon hid behind the clouds, it was when he saw the clearest.
The cries turned into screams cut short and followed by the deep growl of someone speaking Latin. The voice made her skin crawl.
“Giorgio?” Happy tears leached from her eyes.
How’d they know Mike needed them?
“The other suite.” Mike jerked his head. “Go and stay there until I come get you.”
She nodded and started off, but she barely got a step off before a gloved hand covered her mouth. Mike turned and, when his gaze connected with who held her between the streams of silver moonlight, she saw the betrayal.
She knew who this was.
Mike raised his weapon, but before he could get a shot off, the man she already guessed was Dom released two slugs in the dead center of Mike’s forehead.
She went deaf. Completely deaf. She needed air but, for some reason, could get none of it from the space around her. She couldn’t see. Nothing worked—her arms, legs, fingers—and she needed her fingers to pinch herself awake. This was a dream. Like the dream at the beach, in a minute, Mike would wake her up.
“There is a bright side to all of this, Ms. Xara Merritt. Or, is it Xara Liu?” This voice belonged to Mosvar. “I found something in the bathroom. Just thought you should know, you’re not expecting. Your husband didn’t die a would-be father.”
As she prepared to scream, he swiped his fist across her face, knocking her out, cold.
So, uh…how are y’all feeling about Dom right about now?
16: In Another Life
He wanted to be here, there, and everywhere she was. Yet, each time he realized that, a small voice in the back of his head said, “But…Syd.”
“I don’t know, Theo,” he replied, and it was an honest answer. “But, I love you too. I love you and Josiah—”
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