Authors: Nora Flite
-FOR THE FIGHT-
The Beyond Blood Series
A Romantic Suspense
Copyright © 2014 Nora Flite
All rights reserved.
FOR THE FIGHT is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
'd implied I was going to explore the streets in search of information about Marina's mystery man. Instead, the instant her and Kite had left, I'd shut my shades, crawled into bed, and given into the exhaustion that plagued me.
Nothing stirred me.
My dreams were fluid, pulling me down one path and then dropping me onto the next. I remembered little of them when I awoke. Only the siren's call of silky lips, wild eyes, and the gentle grooves criss-crossing open palms.
Snapping my eyes open, I stared at the ceiling and didn't see it. I was still longing for the warm embrace of my private thoughts. Reality was less welcoming. It gave me hunger and a headache.
Here, in my bed, there was no full-bodied woman.
Sitting up, I cradled my forehead and smiled cynically.
She's done something to me. How else can I explain it?
She was a stranger, but I felt like I knew her. Simultaneously, she was a mystery. I ached to take hold of her and peel back her veil so I could glimpse the gears that drove her along. The desire left me drained.
Throwing the blankets aside, I stumbled into my shower.
Routine would save me. It, alone, would keep that woman from burrowing deeper in my skull. As much as I wanted to understand the reasons for my growing obsession, I knew dwelling on Marina in any fashion would just increase it. Even if it got me to the root... the result was I'd never shake her out.
Scrubbing my arms for the third time, I eyed the suds in the drain. They were melting down, vanishing into the tiny holes. Soon, none of them would remain.
Is that it?
I wiped a palm over my wet hair.
When was the last time I had anyone around for more than a few hours?
Beyond even that... when had it been someone who recognized me for what I was?
A killer, a meticulous monster.
I knew the answer to all those questions.
The only other person that understood my character, my flaws and sins, was Kite. There wasn't another living soul who understood what I was capable of. Until now.
Marina had been so keen. She didn't watch me with disgust, and she even reacted like I—on some level—captivated her. She certainly captivated me.
Twisting the shower knob, I turned it off. The water stopped dripping, but I remained standing there for a few minutes. My struggle to brush her aside had crumbled. As I'd feared, my thoughts had turned back to her and now they were stuck.
I thought in defeat,
If I'm pulled to her because she isn't scared of me, I can easily change that.
Flicking water from my eyes, I wrapped a towel around my hips. I needed to get moving. There was a lot on my agenda.
Marina had told me about her family's massacre. I was certain I could use those details to narrow down who Frank's accomplice had been. It would mean potentially long, grueling hours on the street, but it was a start.
It was also the key to getting Kite and me out of her shackles.
You see, I'd figured out my plan. If that damn letter was in the bank like I suspected, it really came down to convincing her to hand it over to us. Getting her to comply meant playing hardball. That was something I was good at.
All I needed to do was find her mystery man. Then the power would be in my corner. If Marina wanted the information bad enough, she would have to trade. Hand over the letter, and I'd hand over the location of her desired revenge on a silver platter. If not, we'd go and kill him ourselves and rob her of the pleasure. I was betting on her own obsession being her downfall.
I still hadn't decided if I'd end her life right there, or if I'd let her go off on her suicide mission. I was leaning towards the latter, just to keep my hands clean. But the former was a guarantee. And I liked guarantees.
Digging my fist into the top of the towel, I stepped into the hall. My coffee pot was brewing already, the machine on auto-pilot. It was after eight in the morning. Later than I'd prefer, but the peak time for prowling the street was when it got dark. The hours until then were meant for research. I needed to find out where, exactly, the Copper Blades loitered.
Our information about Frank, when we'd been hired for the hit, had only said he wandered the park every Friday. That wasn't useful, now. My only lead was where Marina used to live. Gangs tended to stay in one territory.
In the kitchen, the glow of my tablet turned the marble counters blue. Marina had said she'd searched for information already. I didn't doubt her, I'd seen the newspapers collecting in her apartment with my own eyes. But when she'd hired us, saying we could find this man better than she could, she wasn't wrong. There were places Marina wouldn't know to look to find... unscrupulous information.
Grabbing a set of headphones from the drawer, I nuzzled the buds into place. The music I chose was classical, soothing. It'd help me focus as I scoured the web.
It took most of the morning, and two cups of coffee, but I found my trail of breadcrumbs in the expected location; the wayward recesses of the internet. I'd followed a link between drug dealers, sent out an anonymous request to buy some cocaine. That took me down another path towards a correspondence with someone willing to sell to me if I met them at the strip club on Fifteenth and Western. I'd heard of the place. A name like the Pink Factory shouted loudly about what they sold inside.
Surprise surprise, it was on the lower east side.
There was no guarantee that this guy would know anything. That wasn't an issue. Anywhere that was 'safe' for someone to sell a hot ticket like coke? There'd be a plethora of scum lurking around who could take me further in my hunt if he couldn't.
I didn't hear the knocking. It was the motion of my door knob turning that caught my eye. Blinking, I tugged the ear-buds out just as Marina pushed her way inside. She spotted me, freezing with the key—the one I'd given her—still in the lock. Her expression of shock was comical. “Oh shit,” she stammered. “I'm so sorry, I knocked and no one answered!”
Standing, I put the tablet aside. “Are you okay, did something happen?” I asked. Her pupils flicked from my face, to my nude torso. In just a towel, Marina had quite the eyeful of me.
And it looks like she's taking it all in,
I mused. Her appreciation was easy to see even through her flustered expression.
She cleared her throat, yanked out the key and held it up like it explained everything. “Uh—oh!” She shook herself, hovering by the open door. “I'm seriously sorry. Should I just go? I should just go.”
It was a chore not to laugh at her rambling. “You don't need to go.” I'd reached the wall, turning the lights up in the room. I was no longer lit by just the hushed blue of the morning seeping through my windows. Approaching her, my fingers gently touched the door, pushing it closed. “You broke in for a reason, what was it?”
Marina had out dressed me, for once. In tan pants and a thin, orange and white sweater, she reminded me of a Creamsicle. I wanted to reach out, to touch her pink forehead and see if she would melt. “I really knocked. I swear, I wouldn't just use the key you gave me without thinking.”
“I know,” I said.
She relaxed, looking up at me with more of her typical sureness. “Remember how you sent Kite out to buy groceries?”
The recollection of how the man had rolled his eyes at me when I'd handed him my crisp, hand written list had me smiling wider. “Yes. I believe he called me 'Mom.'”
Nodding, she tugged at the ends of her long hair. “Well, Mom forgot to put something on the list. Toilet paper.”
Covering my eyes, I hung my head and sighed. “Of course.” I stared at her through the gaps between my fingers. “I understand. Alright.”
“Sorry if it's a problem,” she said quickly. “I thought you were sleeping. I didn't want to wake you, I figured I could slip in, grab some and just go.”
Picturing Marina trying to out-stealth
... that was funnier than Kite forgetting to take care of his basic needs. “It's fine. I would have answered when you knocked, I just had some music playing.” On bare feet, I padded across the floor and towards the bathroom further inside.
I didn't look back, but my ears caught the creak of her body weight on the floor boards. Marina was wandering deeper into my home. My lips tilted higher.
“Thanks,” she called out to me. “I really appreciate it.”
“It's nothing!” I spotted myself in the long bathroom mirror. The towel was perched around my middle. My mahogany hair had dried, more tousled than usual. I knew I was in good shape, I prided myself on caring for my body. Squinting, I purposefully slid the towel lower, revealing the hard lines of my pelvis and hip bones.
It was a cheap move. So what?
Grabbing an unopened roll from the closet, I carried the paper back to the kitchen. Marina was standing by my tablet, looking away so intentionally it broadcast how she'd been spying. Or trying to. Too bad for her, I knew better than to leave an unlocked computer sitting around. “Here you are,” I said, enjoying how she startled—then stared at me. Shit, I could never get sick of her reactions.
“Th—thanks,” she squeaked. Scrunching her mouth, I
the thoughts in her head. She was getting mad at herself for losing her composure with me. I offered the toilet paper, and she took it with steady hands. She was forcing the steel back into her veins, and that was something I both appreciated... and hated.
Leaning on the counter, I tucked some loose hair behind one ear. “I'm glad the key was useful. And sorry I didn't answer when you knocked.”
“Don't apologize,” she insisted. Clutching the cylinder, she eyed it, then dared to look from my carved stomach to my glinting eyes. Good for her, she was no longer blushing. “Is Kite—has he always been like this?”
“Irresponsible.” She chewed the edge of her lip. “Thoughtless. Like that.”
Lifting an eyebrow, I studied her body language. She was shifting ever so slightly from one foot to the next.
Something has happened
“You're not talking about his bachelor habits. What did he do?” I asked softly.
Her glossy lips puckered, then smoothed into a line. “Jacob, you told me not to lie to you. So how about I don't, and we just don't talk about this?”
The hairs on my neck prickled. “If that's how you'd like to proceed. I can't help you if you don't talk to me, Marina.”
Dark eyes swayed until she was looking out the window. The city outside was coming to life, cars filling the streets. “This isn't something anyone can help with.”
The tug in my stomach, yanking me towards her, won. It didn't take much to lean forward and put my hands on her shoulders, but dammit, it was a mile fall straight down. If this woman was manipulating me into worrying about her, she was a master at it. “I can try,” I whispered. “You just have to trust me.”
Marina switched from uncertainty to brutal, chilling, apologetic sympathy. I didn't want her to look at me with such pity ever,
again. “Jacob, I don't trust you at all.”
A knot grew in my throat, but not because I cared if she trusted me—not in the way friends or family or loved ones cared. It galled me because my whole plan required that she
did trust me
. I needed that from Marina.
Under my hands, her sweater was soft as dandelion seeds. My thumbs brushed her throat, the only patch of skin I could reach. Choking her would have been easy. Why couldn't this whole situation be as simple as one quick, fast jerk of my arms? “Why don't you trust me?”
I?” she asked, a cynical smile blooming. “You and your friend are the same. You're both murderers. You can kill anybody, and I'm not stupid enough to think that doesn't mean me, too.”
Inhaling slowly, my attempt to gather my thoughts only served to cloud me. Marina's scent—that chocolate and cinnamon and spice—danced in my skull. “We won't kill you. We agreed to work with you.”
Her expression was so bitter I could taste it. “So you can lie to me, but I can't lie to you.”
You'd think that her accusations would upset me more. Oh, you'd be very wrong. Standing there, my bare chest inches away from her luscious breasts and her pillowy lips, faced down by the first woman who dared to call me out when she knew what I really was...