• CHAPTER

    EIGHTEEN

    EMMETT (24 HRS BEFORE)

    I enter an Irish pub, where the leader of the Black Bloods said he would meet me. The bartender glances up from drying a large glass. The pub is empty. Barstools run the full length of an old and impressive bar. The rest of the floor is divided up with booths. I don’t like the placement; it leaves plenty of hiding places. I don’t think the leader, who likes to be called Silver, will kill me, but others might. The bar is dark and gloomy, with shadows cast everywhere. It’s then I notice that the bar has no windows at all.

    The bartender nods at me. His face is gruff, and his stomach swells over his belt. He returns to drying his glass. The 9mm in my jacket gives me a little sense of calm, but everything else about this setup feels wrong. I sit at a high round table that’s positioned beside the wall near the main door so I can protect my back, and I wait.

    A man walks through a back door that has a dartboard hanging on the back of it. He enters alone, smiling. I can see why he’s called Silver. His long mane of jet-black hair has one chunk of silver in the front. His features are Asian. He flexes his hands, covered in fingerless leather gloves that match his leather pants.

    ″Mr. Harrington.” He smiles wide.

    I shake his outstretched hand. “Silver, thanks for meeting me.” He lets me go and jumps up fluidly onto the stool across from me.

    ″Freddie, two large ones.” He raises the thumb of his small fist as he speaks, and Freddie moves quickly to get us our drinks.

    ″I’m delivering a shipment for Mr. Kirill, and I wanted to meet you first, before we did business.”

    Freddie drops the pints in front of us. Silver drinks nearly half of his pint before Freddie has even vacated the table. I don’t touch mine.

    ″So, pleasure before business? Smart man.” He runs his hand along his beard, his face set in a permanent, unnerving smile.

    Silver empties his beer and orders another while looking at my full one. “I’m not a drinker,” I say.

    ″An Irishman who doesn’t drink?”

    ″Not a myth,” I tell him.

    ″You’re provocative. My father only recently handed me over the business.” He takes a pack of cigarettes and a lighter out of his pocket. “Honestly, I didn’t want it—seen too much bad blood. But we sons must listen to our fathers.” He lights his cigarette and takes a deep drag before flicking the ashes on the ground.

    ″How’s your father?” he asks. I can see it. He knows we aren’t speaking. The only questions I have are how he could have known and who told him. But before I can answer, the door opens.

    ″I’m good, Silver.” My father says.

    I knew my father was coming—I asked him to—but seeing him walk through the door has me gulping down my drink. I don’t want him to see any reaction from me. Inside is a different story, I want to run and get away from him. The only satisfaction to this is Silver’s paling face, but he gets over his shock and smiles again.

    ″And the Devil walked into a bar,” he says.

    When I worked for my father, if anyone referred to him as Devil, which most did, I wouldn’t let it stand. But now, being older and wiser and away from him, I know they’re right. He is the Devil, and he deserves the title. The two men embrace like they’re old friends. I stiffen as my father’s hand squeezes my shoulder. I want to break his fingers, but I need to make this relationship look real. So, I do nothing.

    ″Son,” my father says, looking me dead in the eye. The glee I see makes me regret asking him for help. I know—eventually—it’s going to cost me. But I had no one else to turn to, and I’m a resourceful man.

    ″Thanks for coming,” I say as he releases me and sits down.

    Silver smiles and nods at me. “You sneaky dog, you,” he says in a joking manner, but I can hear the underlying threat.

    My father shifts, and I place my hand on his arm, surprising him. “He’s right. I didn’t tell him you were coming.”

    ″I think a little more respect in the future would be nice,” Silver says. I’m ready to nod and play nice, but my father isn’t.

    ″You should be the one showing respect, Silver. I think you know what happens to people who don’t.”

    Silver raises both his hands. “Respect works both ways, Devil. I’m just saying.”

    ″And I’m just saying, never talk to my son like that again. You’re a piece of shit that I tolerate, for your father’s sake.”

    Silver lets out a humorless laugh. The lighter sits in his hand as he flips it between his forefinger and thumb.

    ″Everyone needs to relax.” I direct this to my father, who really doesn’t seem to give a shit how this is going, and that alone worries me. “So, we will meet at the east docks at four p.m.,” I say to Silver.

    He briefly stops playing with the lighter. “One of my men will contact one of yours.” He stands, ready to leave. I thought this would go much smoother, and my heart sinks as my father rises, deliberately blocking Silver. I stay seated, my hand close to my gun in case I need it.

    ″No need to have someone contact us, Silver. You’ll be there.” My father smiles; it’s empty. People often say I have my father’s eyes and smile. I really hope I don’t. He appears soulless.

    ″Sure thing, Devil.” Silver is definitely new to the game. His disrespect might be let go of here, but other leaders won’t tolerate it. Silver walks past my father. The bartender is still drying the same glass, his eyes downcast, but he’s listening. Who is he listening for?

    My thoughts are shattered as a single gunshot has me reaching for my gun. I turn as my father fires for the second time. The glass smashes as the bartender hits the ground, disappearing behind the bar. A pool of blood grows around Silver’s head. He didn’t get two feet away from us.

    ″A head shot? Are you out of your mind?” My father doesn’t even blink at my tone. “What have you done?” This time, I grab him, but he shoves me off.

    ″He isn’t fit to lead.” My father still holds his gun, pointing it at Silver’s body.

    ″We needed him. I asked for your help. This is putting me deep in it.” Closing my eyes briefly, I fight with my monster, who rattles the bars of his cage.

    My eyes open as his hand weighs heavily on my shoulder. “Stop worrying, son. It will work itself out. His father should have never gone into retirement. This way, he has to come back out.”

    ″Yeah, I get that. But for what? To find out who killed his son?” I shrug off my father’s arm and walk to the bar before leaning over the wooden counter. I want to make sure the bartender really is dead. Blood gurgles from his mouth as he fights for his life, his mouth opening and closing like a fish, then he just stops and grows still. Dead.

    ″Can you get one of your men to do cleanup?” my father asks me, as if we’re having a casual conversation about the weather.

    I lean back over the bar to find him putting on his black leather gloves. “What are you going to tell Silver’s father?” I ask, and I’m rewarded with a smile.

    ″That the bartender shot him, and I shot the bartender. Did you see how he was listening? That means he was working for someone. It wasn’t me. Was it you?”

    ″No, it wasn’t. I’ll get Matthew on cleanup,” I say, pulling out my phone.

    ″His father will hunt down whoever hired the bartender.” He looks happy with himself.

    ″And when he finds out the bartender was only here to listen and not kill him, what then?” I ask as the line trills. He pulls a gun out of his pocket and fires three bullets around the main door.

    ″Emmett, are you okay?” The worry in Matthews’s voice sounds sincere. Anger rises inside me, but I douse it.

    ″I’m fine. I need you to come to O’Flatterties for a cleanup.”

    ″On my way,” Matthew says, not missing a beat.

    ″My father’s here,” I add before hanging up.

    The man in question smiles at me. “I get to see my old pal, Matthew.” He moves behind the bar. I know he’s placing the gun in the bartender’s hand.

    ″You can’t touch him,” I warn as I watch Silver’s blood run into the cracks of the large slabbed tiles.

    ″Tomorrow, extra protection will be placed on your people so they can leave the compound.”

    I glance at him now. He hasn’t said anything about not touching Matthew. The price of all this is steep, and I wonder if it’s too much.

    He narrows his eyes at me. “You will hold up your end, son. I would hate to have to kill you.”

    I don’t entertain my father any longer, but spend the next fifteen minutes searching the premises for cameras. I find none. No hidden doorways, which are often placed strategically in bars run by gangs. There is nothing out of the ordinary, except for the two dead bodies.

    The door to the pub opens, and Matthew walks in. His eyes dart from me to my father. Mercifully, he doesn’t hesitate but nods at me and silently gets to work. “Yeah, I will,” I say as my father searches my face, which I keep impassive.

    My father smiles. “You’re becoming more like me each day, son.” His words are giving life to my deepest fear. I don’t want to be my father’s son.

    CHAPTER NINTEEN

    AMBER

    After our exchange in the kitchen, Emmett has become aware of everyone watching and lets me go get dressed. Since then, there’s been an eruption of commotion in the house, and I find myself watching as people leave over the next few hours, each being gifted at the door with their own personal bodyguard. I have no idea what’s happening. I need to get out of here. I haven’t seen Emmett since earlier, and Eli no longer tags around after me. Matthew smiles when he sees me. I try to return the smile, but I’m not sure I succeed.

    I want to search the house for Emmett, but I don’t leave the safety of being with a crowd. I don’t trust Matthew not to harm me.

    ″You’re leaving?” I jog to the door as Mandy is being given a bodyguard by JP.

    ″Yeah. The threat is over.” Mandy smiles.

    ″Do I get to leave?” I ask JP.

    He shakes his head. “You have to wait for Emmett.”

    Mandy leaves with her new bodyguard as footsteps from behind me have me turning around.

    ″Nice of you to make an appearance,” I say to Emmett as I face him.

    ″Is everyone gone?” Emmett asks JP, releasing me from his stare.

    I have a brief moment of relief before it turns to annoyance. I want to know what’s happening.

    ″Yeah, just the crew is left.” JP closes the door, drawing my attention to the large wooden doorway. He doesn’t glance at me as he makes his way back into the house.

    ″I’m ready to leave now,” I say.

    ″Soon.” Emmett turns away.

    I’ve finally had enough. “No. Now.” My moment of bravery fizzles as Emmett pivots and takes a step toward me. I find myself moving back.

    ″Amber.” My name is said with exhaustion, and it also holds a warning. “I’m trying to protect you.” He takes another step forward, and I take one back.

    ″I know. But everyone gets to go, so why not me?” He takes another step. I don’t move back this time. My stomach tightens at his closeness, my heart beating wildly in my chest.

    ″Because everyone who has left is with a bodyguard.” God, his eyes are the lightest yet sharpest blue I have ever seen. They’re like ice. I often hear people say it’s hard to hold someone’s stare. I’ve never gotten it until now.

    ″Then where is mine?” I ask, irritated at this situation and how I’m feeling, especially about him.

    ″You’re looking at him.” His words weaken me further, and I glance away, unable to hold his glare.

    ″When can I go get my bag and stuff?” I’m waiting for ‘You can’t’ or some excuse, but he surprises me when my vision is filled with a slick new phone.

    ″Ring Grace. She’s worried about you.”

    I take the phone like it’s a lifeline and glance up at Emmett. Ringing Grace just gives normality to this crazy situation.

    ″Thank you,” I say. I hold the phone in a death grip in case he changes his mind. He would have to remove my fingers to get the phone back.

    Morbid thoughts of finger removal fill my head. Is Emmett truly a man capable of being a monster? I know the world I stepped into is corrupt and cruel. But how deep is it? Did he really kill someone? When I look at him, I know he isn’t a monster. Still, he isn’t innocent either.

    ″I’ll be ready in thirty minutes. I’ll take you back to the hotel then.” His eyebrows are pulled down.

    My emotions are so conflicted when it comes to him, and the deeper I fall into his world, the more conflicted I feel.

    ″Okay.”

    He stares at me silently for a few more seconds before leaving. I sit on the stairs, staring at the phone. I don’t have a clue why I’m hesitating. Actually, I do. I have someone to ring before Grace. My stomach is in knots.

    ″Hello?”

    Tears burn my eyes at hearing my mother’s voice. “Hi, Mum.”

    ″Amber, sweetheart.” There’s a tremble in her voice. “Where have you been? Your father is at his wit’s end.” There’s a pause. “Luke, your sister’s fine. I have her on the phone.” The pounding of footsteps down the stairs is loud before the shuffle of the phone has another voice filling my ears.

    ″Amber, what the hell?” Luke’s angry. I don’t blame him.

    I try to keep some humor in my voice. “Hi, bruv. How are you?”

    After talking my brother out of looking for me and assuring my parents that I’m fine, I’m exhausted. When I hang up, my call time shows that forty-five minutes have passed. Emmett said thirty minutes.

    I dial Grace’s number.

    ″I have a bag packed, and Derek is starting the car.” That’s how Grace answers the phone.

    I smile. “Thanks, girl, but tell Derek he can stand down. I’m alive.”

    ″I really was starting to get worried.” Grace sounds like she just sat down. I know her; she’s worried. I hate pushing her away, so I stay as close to the truth as possible until I can figure out how to tell her everything. We don’t keep secrets from each other.

    ″I’m sorry, girl. But I’m fine, honest. I’m with Emmett.”

    She pauses, and I let her. “Oh. Like with with, or just with?”

    ″Just one with. He’s actually helping me get on my feet. I didn’t want to say anything in case it got weird.”

    ″It would only get weird if you were with with him.”

    ″Really?” That surprises me. I didn’t think Grace would have cared, since it was me.

    ″Well, yeah. But if you wanted to be with with him instead of with him, I would support you, but it would be weird.”

    I smile, all of my worries leaving me.

    ″Look, you can sleep with my brother, but I do not want to hear about it.”

    My face flames. “Not going to happen.” I’m considering adding, I don’t think Emmett likes me like that, when Grace’s laugh has my face going redder. “What is so funny?”

    ″You really like my brother.”

    Hearing Grace say that makes me suddenly realize she’s right. I swallow that truth, not ready to deal with it.

    I end up laughing. “I have no idea if I do.”

    ″You sound happy,” Grace says, making me pause.

    Am I? Everything here is crazy, but when I think about it, really think about it, I realize it beats getting drunk and going from one job to another. I feel like I’m standing still for the first time in a long time, even as everything in Emmett’s world rushes past me. When I’m with him, it finally feels like I’ve come home, like I’m safe and nothing can touch me, not even the pain from my past.

    ″I am. I really am,” I say with clarity. We chat for nearly an hour when I finally close the phone with a promise to meet soon. I get off the stairs, stretching my legs.

    ″Emmett is waiting in the car.”

    I scream at the unexpected voice and nearly drop the phone.

    ″Apologies, Miss Green,” Joe, the driver, bows slightly.

    ″Call me Amber—it’s fine. I think you just made my heart stop for a moment there.”

    He doesn’t smile. “Apologies, again.”

    ″Joe, it’s fine. How long were you standing there?”

    He looks at the watch on his wrist. “Since 12:25.”

    The clock on the phone reads 1:40. “You’ve been waiting for over an hour?”

    Joe moves toward the door. “We best be going, Miss Green. And yes, Mr. Harrington told me to let you know he is waiting but not to disturb your call.”

    I swallow more emotions. Taking a deep breath, I follow Joe to the car. I climb in and Joe closes the door.

    ″You spoke to Grace?” he asks.

    I hand him back the phone. He waves it off. “Keep it. We seem to have misplaced yours.”

    My heart sinks. “But all my numbers?”

    ″I’m sorry, Amber, but it was destroyed.”

    Joe starts the car, and we pull away from the house.

    ″Well, thank you for the replacement, and yeah, I got through to Grace and my parents. That’s what took so long. I had to talk my brother out of sending a search party for me.”

    ″I’m actually traveling to Kells in a few days.”

    Something is out of sorts with Emmett. He isn’t looking at me; instead, he’s glancing out the window.

    ″Are you offering for me to come with you?” I ask.

    When he faces me, my stomach quivers as his ice-blue eyes drink me in. “Yes, you could visit Grace and your family.”

    It’s on the tip of my tongue to say yes, but I’m not sure if I’m ready to go home. What Emmett is offering me is great, but facing a past I’ve been running from isn’t easy.

    ″I’ll think about it,” I say.

    Emmett smiles, and I swear my heart skips a beat.

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    Love Vi