“So we lookin’ for her?” Gage asked.
“Yup,” he said. “She’s goin’ home with London, just as soon as we find her. And she’s out for good after that, got me?”
“Sure,” Gage said casually. “But she’s upstairs right now with Banks and Painter. Probably already on her back.”
I shivered, closing my eyes. Please, please, please be using condoms …
“This way,” Hayes said, and I followed him through the partiers and across the room. The crowd parted for him like a wave, making it all too clear who was the boss.
At the far end of the room, past the bar, was a staircase leading upstairs. Hayes started climbing and I followed. On the second level we passed through a large game room holding a pool table, old couches, a giant TV, and several generations of video game consoles. There were people here, too, although not as many. Just the occasional couple on a couch.
Eyes forward. Not your place to judge.
Hayes led me up one more level, into a narrow hallway lined on each side by narrow wooden doors.
“Armory used to have barracks space up here,” he said. “I don’t think it was ever really used, but that’s how they built them back then. Now they’re our guest rooms. She’s probably in the one at the far end, because it’s the only one open.”
He strolled down the hallway casually, as if we weren’t in a race to stop my cousin from getting pregnant. I forced myself to follow with measured footsteps, coming to a halt next to him in front of the last door. I heard moaning inside, and I closed my eyes, wishing I were at home in bed, where I belonged.
“You sure you want to do this?” Hayes asked, and something softened in his hard eyes.
I frowned at him. “Of course—what do you mean?”
“We can just go downstairs, have a drink,” he said slowly. “Relax a little. Because if we go in there and drag her out, it’s not gonna change anything. If the kid’s determined to get herself in trouble, she’ll do it. You can’t stop her.”
I clenched my teeth. Part of me whispered he was right—after all, it wasn’t like I’d been able to change Amber. My cousin hadn’t started out as the kind of person who’d shoot up heroin in front of her twelve-year-old daughter.
But I wanted more for Jessica. Better.
“Should I knock on the door or should you?” I asked him, determined. He shrugged, then rapped hard against the wood.
“Yeah?” a man shouted, his voice hoarse. I could imagine why, too.
“You got a girl in there named Jessica?”
I heard muffled voices, then another man spoke again.
“She says no, but she looks guilty. Give us a sec.”
We waited for what couldn’t have been more than a couple of minutes but felt like an eternity as I heard rumbles and thumps coming from the room.
Two male voices. Then Jessica’s, raised in argument. Dear God, why did she do things like this?
Hayes leaned back against the wall the whole time, crossing his big arms and studying me like a trapped mouse. Then the door opened, revealing a tall, dark-haired young man with rumpled hair. I looked past him to find a very plain room with an ancient, sagging bed. Jessica stood at the foot, her face full of fury. Behind her was another man, this one with short, spiky blond hair. He wasn’t wearing a shirt, just a pair of jeans loosely fastened, and he pulled on heavy leather boots with a look of profound annoyance.
There were smears of lipstick on his chest, trailing down across his stomach.
“You have no right to be here,” Jess hissed at me. My eyes flicked back to her. God, she looked awful. Ragged, torn tights, uber short skirt, and two tops layered in a way that somehow covered nothing while still giving the appearance of clothing. Her eyes were smudged with thick, dark black liner, her hair was tangled and wild, and the slash of red across her mouth matched the trail she’d left on the man behind her.
“Jess, it’s time to go home,” I said, and suddenly I felt every minute of my thirty-eight years. The blond pulled on a shirt then brushed past her and out the door, practically growling in his frustration. Hayes stepped forward and slapped his back as they exchanged a look I couldn’t begin to read.
“I hate you!” Jess snarled.
“For fuck’s sake,” Hayes said, his voice annoyed. “Get your ass out here, you little shit. I don’t have time for this and neither does London.”
“Screw you. I’m an adult. I can do whatever I want, and I want to stay here with Banks.”
The young man holding the door—presumably Banks—gave an incredulous snort. Hayes didn’t do anything, but somehow the air changed. Darkened. Jessica had made a very serious mistake and suddenly I felt scared for her. I reached over, catching his arm without thinking, my fingers curling into his warm skin as I whispered, “Please …”
Hayes glanced down at my hand, then caught my gaze, holding it captive.
“You owe me,” he said. “Because that little bitch doesn’t talk to me like that, you got it? Never again.”
He turned his attention back to Jess, whose face had started to reflect some concern. Maybe she was finally realizing this wasn’t a game?
“You get your ass out here and apologize to your cousin,” Hayes said, his voice so quiet and low I felt it all the way down my spine. “Then go downstairs and get in her car. You’re gonna drive home and you’re never coming out here again. You do, I’ll teach you a lesson you won’t forget—and don’t think for a second that smiling and flashing your tits will make a difference. I’ve seen it all before. We clear?”
Jessica nodded, eyes wide. She stepped out of the room, moving instinctively to stand behind me, as far from the Reapers’ president as she could get without making an obvious break for freedom.
“I’m ready to leave now, Loni,” she said quietly.
“Okay. Let’s get out of here.”
I turned to leave, but Hayes’s voice cut like the slash of a whip.
We turned back slowly. His stare flayed me, stripping through my defenses, and I realized he was much, much angrier with Jessica than I’d realized. Somewhere down in the depths of my brainstem the monkey screamed in fear, absolutely convinced a predator was about to eat us.
“Banks will take her down,” he said. “You and I aren’t done.”
The boy stepped out of the room quickly, pulling on his Reapers vest before catching Jessica’s arm and dragging her down the hallway. If you’d seen them from a distance, you’d almost believe they were a young couple holding hands … In reality, he was more like a guard escorting a prisoner.