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Authors: V. J. Chambers

Ripped (21 page)

BOOK: Ripped
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She laughed.

I had come inside her again this last little romp. Twice.

We weren’t even talking about it anymore. I didn’t think either of us wanted to acknowledge what it meant or what we were doing. I knew it was dangerous, that I was tempting fate, and that it wasn’t wise.

Thing was, it wouldn’t be that terrible having her around all the time. Settling down with Shell, always having her company? I could get used to that. And if she was pregnant, that might not be terrible either. I had pictured myself as a dad when I thought that Angie was pregnant, and I kind of liked the idea of a little one running around.

I wanted my life to mean something. I wanted to matter to someone.

But if I was going to do that with Shell, I’d have to do it right, and that would mean giving up killing.

And I wasn’t sure I could do that. I didn’t know what it would do to me if I didn’t have that release. I let out all my darkness when I killed. That left me with nothing but the parts of myself that I wanted to share with the world. I could be happy. I could be something other than a monster.

That was why Shell thought that I wasn’t. Because she saw me with all the darkness emptied out.

But if I stopped killing, what would I become?

“It might get cold at night,” she said.

“What would?”

“Not wearing any clothes,” she said. “And in the winter?”

“Ah,” I said. “I suppose you’re right. We could just crank up the heat, though.”

She turned to look at me, twisting against my body. “How much does it cost to heat this place, anyway? I mean, it’s all glass. Don’t you lose like an insane amount of heat that way?”

“Well, the greenhouse effect sort of helps,” I said. “And it’s a special kind of glass. It’s very good at holding in the heat, and it’s hard to penetrate or break. It won’t shatter if gets hit by a bullet or something.”

Her eyes widened.

“Not that I’m worried about bullets or anything.”

Right at that moment, there was a loud, echoing crack, and the sound of something hitting the glass just beside my head.

We both jumped up.

I turned to see that there was a bullet hole in the glass wall next to us. It had gone clean through, not cracking or anything, just as it was supposed to. The glass worked as advertised.

I shook my head. “I had to go and say that I wasn’t worried about bullets, didn’t I?”

Shell was hugging herself, trying to cover her body. Her voice was a frightened whisper. “Someone’s out here?”

I handed her the robe that was draped over the chair next to us, and I shrugged into mine. “Where’d you leave the gun?” I said in a quiet voice.

She pointed.

“Okay,” I said, “here’s what we’re going to do.”

But then there was another volley of gun fire, bullets raining from above, and I grabbed her, throwing us both to the ground, my body covering hers.

Four men swung down from the trees on cables. They were all dressed in nondescript clothing, hair cut tight against their heads. But from the way they moved, I knew that they were professionals. Someone had hired them.

What the hell?

Who knew about my house?

More importantly, who would want me dead?

Then the fifth man swung down, planting himself directly in front of me, and pointing a gun straight at my head. “Hi there, Cade,” said Ice.

Damn it. I should never have made that comment about how he’d never come here, how it was out of bounds. I was jinxing myself all over the place.











Cade stood up, pulling me up too.

We were surrounded by men with guns, and all the guns were pointing at us. My heart was racing, and I felt sick to my stomach. This wasn’t how I wanted to die. I wanted to die old and fat, surrounded by my numerous grandchildren, at the age of a hundred and three.

Cade didn’t seem the least bit flustered. “Well, now, I see what this is all about, Ice. You couldn’t figure out any way that you could beat me fairly, so you decided to fight dirty. At my house? You’re really that desperate?”

“This is war,” said Ice. “There is no fair.”

Cade considered this and shrugged. “All right, I suppose you’ve got me there, but honestly, you
people?” He nodded at the other men with guns. “I think you and I both always knew that I could take you, and it’s very nice to see that you’ve admitted that I’m superior to you in every way.” He grinned.

“Shut up,” said Ice.

Cade was quiet for a few seconds.

Nothing happened. I could hear birds chirping in the distance, and the whole scene suddenly seemed oddly surreal.

“Well?” said Cade. “What are you waiting for? You’ve got me surrounded. Shoot me in the head.”

Ice seethed.

“You know what I think it is you’re waiting for?” said Cade. “You’re waiting for me to figure out a way to get out of this. And, as it happens…” Abruptly, his hand shot out, and he snatched something off the belt of one of the men. It was a knife. He moved quick—almost too quick for me to see, but there was a flash of metal, and Cade cut the cables of the men who’d come down on them. In an instant, he shoved two of them backwards over the porch.

The men tumbled off, both yelling.

“Shoot him!” Ice yelled.

Cade hit the ground. “Shell, the gun!” he screamed at me.

I dove for it. It was lying on a table several feet away.

Bullet sailed over Cade’s head.

He rolled over onto his back, laughing. “Now, that fall isn’t going to kill those two, but I imagine they’ve both got broken bones. Call this off, Ice. You’re no match for me.”

“Get her,” said Ice to one of the men.

My fingertips brushed the gun.

But the man was too fast for me. He grabbed me, yanking me against his body. My robe gaped open, flashing everyone.

Ice leered at me.

Cade wasn’t laughing anymore. “Let her go,” he growled.

“Oh, this girl,” said Ice. “What is it about this girl?” He nodded at the man who held onto me. “Bring her to me.”

Cade got up. He started for me.

The other hired man put his gun into Cade’s chest, stopping him.

“Come on,” said Cade, glaring at Ice. “She’s got nothing to do with this.”

“She’s the key to this,” said Ice, taking me by the arm and wrenching me away from the other man. “I wanted to share her with you, but you wanted to hoard your toys.”

“You wanted to kill her, and since when have you ever shared anything? You don’t even know what sharing means.”

“You know what this is all about?” said Ice, his voice going shrill. “This is all because I didn’t offer those Russian girls to you first, isn’t it? If I’d just called you up and given you a crack at them—”

“You think it’s that?” Cade sneered. “You don’t understand anything, Ice.”

Ice yanked me across the porch. “What’s it about, then?”

I tried to resist, but he was too strong for me, and if I didn’t walk with him, I knew he would drag me.

“Obviously, it’s about the fact that you can’t handle the fact that I don’t want to sit beside you at lunch anymore. And you’re jealous of my girlfriend.”

Wait? What? Girlfriend? My eyes widened.

Cade gave me a lopsided grin.

I tried to get away from Ice again.

“People like us don’t have girlfriends,” said Ice, and he plunged me face first into the hot tub.

Completely submerged in the water, I couldn’t hear or see anything. I thrashed, trying to get up, to get free.

Ice’s hand was like an iron band around the back of my neck, holding me in place.

I thought, feeling frantic.
He’s trying to drown me. But Cade’s going to stop him, and I just need to conserve my energy and wait.
I wished that I’d taken a bigger breath before this started. Already, my lungs were starting to scream at me.

The world was a quiet, wet place. I could hear the muffled sounds of voices over top of me.

I couldn’t help it. I thrashed again. I needed to breathe, and it was becoming worse and worse.

I tried to calm myself down. I could survive without oxygen for something like six minutes. Or was it three?

No, it had to be longer than three minutes, because people did that all the time, diving deep and holding their breath.

But still, it hadn’t been anything like six minutes, so I had to be okay, right?

I wanted up.

I tried to struggle, tried to free myself.

I couldn’t.

My lungs hurt now. I was desperate, frantic, even though I kept trying to calm myself down.

Time passed.

I could still hear the voices overhead, but I couldn’t make out what they were saying.

My lungs felt like they were full of hot lava right now, and it burned.

Everything was starting to go dark around the edges. I was fading out, and it was a nice feeling. Peaceful. On the other side of this, there wouldn’t be any pain. It would be sweet and calm and dark and warm, and it sang to me like a siren song.

Take the easy way out, Shell. Give in and rest.

No. I’m not ready,
I pleaded with it.

You won’t have to fight anymore. It’s nice here. Let go. Take the water into your lungs.

I tried to fight again, to thrash in the water, but I didn’t have any energy. I didn’t know how much longer I could hold it off. I was going to die here, on this deck, and I didn’t know if—

Something pulled me up out of the water.

I gasped, sputtered, and looked around.

Cade picked me up, arms under my legs. He had a gun in one hand. It looked like it belonged to one of the men who’d swung in on the cables. Its cold metal dug into my hip.

I sucked air into my lungs, and it was sweet and good, but it hurt like fuck.

Cade walked with me, and we stepped over the body of one of the men.

“This isn’t over, Cade,” came Ice’s voice from behind us.

Cade swung around, and I saw that Ice was tied to the railing of the porch by one of the cables. His nose was bleeding.

“My house, man,” said Cade in a rasping voice. “Not cool.” He turned back around and we kept walking.

We walked down the steps, out through the kitchen, and to Cade’s car. He set me inside the passenger’s seat.

I shivered.

“Well,” he said, “looks like we have to go into hiding. You sit tight while I get the bags you packed.”

* * *



We drove without speaking for some time. I was still shivering. I pulled the robe tight around my naked body, but I was sopping wet and badly shaken up.

He was still only wearing a robe too.

The casual sexiness of the early part of the morning now seemed a million miles away. I was terrified. I had nearly died.

Finally, he spoke. “I’m sorry I wasn’t faster getting you out of there.”

“I thought I was going to die,” I said.

“I would never let that happen.” And he sounded so certain, as if he could actually control these sorts of things.

“If I could have gotten to the gun faster…” I sighed. “I was just in the way. I should have gone for it the minute that we heard that shot.”

“You don’t have any experience with this kind of thing,” he said. “You did fine. It was me who should have moved faster. Listen, I know that you probably don’t want anything to do with me now.”

I looked sidelong at him. “But you just saved my life.”

“And you wouldn’t have been in danger if it hadn’t been for me.”

“Don’t put words in my mouth, okay?”

“I think I could find someplace safe for you if you want me to. I would do what I needed to in order to take care of Ice, and I’d let you know when it was safe.”

“You’ll kill Ice?”

He hesitated.

“You’re not going to kill him? Jesus, Cade, of all the people not to kill. He fits your code, doesn’t he?”

“He was my friend. It’s complicated.”

“If you aren’t going to kill him, I’ll never be safe, no matter what. He’s going to keep coming.” I shuddered. “And I’d rather be with you than on my own. I’d be safer with you.”

He didn’t say anything.

“Unless… you don’t want me around,” I said. “Because I slow you down.”

“It’s not about slowing me down,” he said. “But if something happened to you, love, I don’t think I could forgive myself.”

“Well, what if something happens to me while you’re gone?”

“Besides,” he said, “I still have that job to do.”

I gaped at him in disbelief. “You’re still going to go off and kill someone for money? After what just happened?” Of course, I guess for him this was just a normal day in the life of a hired hit man. I rubbed my temples. I was getting a headache.

BOOK: Ripped
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