We also cleaned Pawns that night.
Usually Bolt was in the back room—so far as I could tell he slept on a cot in the storeroom half the time. I’d assumed he was just crashing there out of convenience, but based on our conversation at the mall, Maggs had thrown him out.
He wasn’t actually at the store that night, but I decided it would be stupid to break into his office and search for papers. The whole place was probably wired up with cameras—it was a pawn shop, for God’s sake, which meant it was full of valuable, portable merchandise. The real question wasn’t whether the cameras were there, but whether they would still work if the power was cut.
Something to think about, because if I fucked up, they’d chop off another piece of Jessica.
Reese had asked me to come back out to the Armory that evening after I finished my jobs, but conveniently I didn’t get done until after ten. That meant I wasn’t lying when I told him I was too exhausted. I drove out to his house instead, fingering the black smart phone thoughtfully. If I got lucky, I’d have most of the night to search. I couldn’t imagine he’d be home any time soon—maybe he’d even crash at the Armory. God, I hoped so. I wasn’t sure I could look him in the face without giving anything away.
We’d slept on the couch last night, the same couch where—
Shit. If he slept at the Armory, who would he be sleeping with? Could I really trust him not to cheat on me with so many willing, available women running around all the time? A wave of jealousy hit me, but I squashed it because that was fucking crazy. I was doing my best to betray him and the people he loved most to an evil stranger who liked to cut fingers off young women.
So far as I could tell, that sort of trumped the jealous-girlfriend bit.
God, I would miss him …
If we both lived through this, I’d be lucky if he didn’t kill me himself. Not an idle concern, either. I’d heard the rumors—I knew what the Reapers were capable of. But I’d also heard that they didn’t take out anyone who didn’t deserve it.
Unfortunately, from their perspective I’d probably deserve it. They wouldn’t be entirely wrong about that, either.
Shitty to be me.
The Hayes house blazed with light when I pulled in the driveway, and two bikes were parked out front. One looked familiar. The other I’d never seen before. Neither belonged to Reese.
I let myself in the front door to find Melanie sitting next to Painter, his arm draped loosely across the back of the couch over her shoulders. She was buried in a quilt with only her eyes showing. They were glued to the TV screen, where a chainsaw-wielding man was about to cut a woman’s hand off.
I threw up a little in the back of my throat, grasping the door frame for support.
Another young man leaned back in the lounge chair, feet propped casually on the end of the coffee table. He had short dark hair, heavy stubble, and eyes so cold and dead he could’ve been holding the chainsaw. It was hard to see in the dim light, but it looked like tattoos completely covered his arms. Handsome and unnerving—a very dangerous boy, I decided.
Painter paused the movie, standing up slowly. I glanced between him and Melanie, shaking my head. Couldn’t believe I’d fallen for his shit—apparently this was International Fuck Over London Armstrong Day.
“London,” he said quietly.
“Painter,” I replied, wondering if we were starting some kind of standoff. I guess we were, because he’d promised to stay away from her, yet here he was. Although to be honest, my perspective on that whole issue had changed in the past twelve hours, what with watching Jessica’s finger get cut off. Somehow Melanie’s virtue wasn’t seeming quite as important in comparison.
“We’ll talk in the kitchen,” he told me, then jerked his chin toward the scary young man. “This is Puck. He’s a prospect with the Silver Bastards. Pic asked him to stay out here tonight. Said it wouldn’t hurt to have some extra security, given how many people are in town right now.”
Panic closed my throat. Extra security? That didn’t make any sense—they must know something. Painter was going to take me into that kitchen and kill me for betraying the club.
Shut up! My brain snapped. Chill the fuck out, because there’s no way they could find out so fast.
Good point. I took a deep breath and tried smiling at the young prospect. He just studied me, crossing muscular arms in front of his chest. He really was extremely attractive. Black hair, dark eyes, dusky, thick eyelashes—near perfect, except for the scar running up one cheek, along his nose and into his forehead.
Damn. Looked like someone had tried to cut his face off.
Not that it hurt his looks at all. If anything, it kept him from being too pretty. Dark skin said he came from a mixed background. Maybe one of the local tribes? Or Latino … Hard to tell, and not really any of my business anyway.
“Nice to meet you,” I said, then looked back at Painter. “I assume you got him settled upstairs?”
“It’s covered,” Painter replied. “Let’s talk in the kitchen.”
I nodded, pausing to give Mel a quick squeeze on the shoulder. She seemed to be operating on the theory that no murderers or monsters would be able to get her so long as she stayed under the covers. Clearly she wasn’t willing to risk that safety for a hug, which made me smile sadly.
I was learning the hard way that nothing can protect us from the real monsters.
“What’s up?” I asked Painter once we reached the other room. He caught and held my gaze, his expression focused.
“I didn’t lie to you about Melanie,” he said. “I won’t do anything to hurt her. She was just scared of the movie. Puck and I had no idea she’d be so frightened, and she didn’t say anything ahead of time. Otherwise we would’ve watched something else. Pic didn’t want her out here alone, and I knew you’d be pissed if I took her back to the Armory.”
I would’ve felt extremely relieved to hear that if I hadn’t been so completely focused on keeping Jessica alive.
“Good to know.”
“I’ve fucked up before,” he continued. “I’m a dick and an ass-hole. But I promise you—I’m not gonna screw her over. Okay?”
He nodded, as if something important had been decided. I wasn’t even close to understanding what was going on behind those eyes of his, and it didn’t matter. All that mattered was saving Jessica.
“You wanna watch the rest of the movie with us?”