I woke with a grave sense that something was wrong. My mind and ears were alert, but I kept my eyes closed and my body as relaxed as possible. I focused on each breath that filled and fled from my lungs, but as the seconds went on, my breaths turned shallow and started coming faster.
Someone was in my room.
Breathe in. Breathe out.
Breathe in. Breathe out.
It was dark behind my eyelids, too dark for anyone to try to wake me.
The name floated through my mind for merely a second before it was shoved aside by that overwhelming sense of wrongness.
Kieran was silent as the night.
If I’d woken to him, I knew my heart would have been beating wildly in my chest, calling out to the guy who had stolen it at some point in my life. It wouldn’t have been slowing, as if even my heart knew it needed to be silent in those moments.
If it had been Kieran, his dark, complicated presence would’ve filled the room, pressing against me in a way I’d spent years recognizing. Instead, electricity danced across my skin in warning, as if I was standing in the path where lightning was about to strike.
Whoever was in the room with me was attempting to quiet their steps . . . and failing.
The warm summer air blew strands of hair across my face, tickling my lips and nose, but still I didn’t move. Fear flooded my veins as that ominous feeling grew stronger and stronger, my breaths halting when I realized I hadn’t opened the large windows in my room.
“One of the other rooms?” a harsh, masculine voice asked from across my room, the hushed whisper floating over to me on the breeze.
“No,” another deep voice responded. “He said it was in here somewhere.”
My body shook as I fought with myself over what to do. Before I could decide on screaming for someone or remaining silent, a third intruder made my decision for me . . .
Rough, thick fingers trailed from my cheek to jaw, and a raw scream burst from my lungs as my eyes flew open.
The same hand that had gently caressed a split second before promptly slammed down over my mouth, muffling my scream and allowing me to hear the curses and demands now flying from the strangers.
“You fucking idiot—”
“We need to go.”
“Goddamn it, I said shut up!”
“—what the fuck did you do?”
Footsteps could be heard pounding down the hall seconds before my door was flung open. The light to my room was turned on, revealing Aric and the three men in my room.
They were in dark jeans and jackets. Their hoods were drawn over their heads and held in place by dark bandanas that covered their chins to just below their eyes. The two standing near the foot of my bed immediately began yelling what sounded like accusations at my brother, but Aric didn’t seem to be hearing them.
He didn’t seem to notice them at all.
A flurry of emotions passed over his face: shock, worry, hesitation, and fear . . . but as his eyes narrowed on the man standing above me, fury replaced all the rest.
I screamed for him against the large hand covering my mouth, but I didn’t know what I was screaming.
Screaming for him to run and get help.
Screaming for him to save me.
“I said shut up,” the man repeated again, his growl splitting over the shouts in the room.
The hand covering my mouth left briefly, but then connected with my face hard. The force made me bite my cheek and stunned me for long seconds as the metallic taste of blood met my tongue.
My brother tore into the room, shouting for me and shouting at the men, not even stopping when the man closest to him calmly pulled out a gun from the back of his dark jeans.
But he didn’t point it at Aric or at me; it just remained at his side in warning.
My world tilted as a high-pitched ringing filled my ears.
A stain spread rapidly on Aric’s shirt as he finally stumbled to a stop. It was blood red. And it didn’t make sense, and someone was screaming, and they needed to stop.
They needed to help Aric.
Something was wrong with him, but there was so much screaming, confusing my already flooded senses as my world continued to tilt. And Aric was staring blankly at me as I was ripped off my bed by the man who had hit me—a gun in his free hand, raised in Aric’s direction.
Why wasn’t anyone helping him?
The screaming finally stopped, but someone was holding me back—pulling me away. Away from Aric and the safety of the house, toward the large windows. That rough hand was back over my mouth, the arm it was attached to completely oblivious to my clawing at it.
A wet choking noise sounded in the room, and I fought harder—except, I wasn’t sure my arms worked anymore.
I couldn’t move.
I couldn’t get to him, and I needed to get to him. He was going to fall!
Aric’s lips moved one last time, but I couldn’t decipher his words as my world darkened.
His knees hit my floor, and suddenly a pair of familiar green eyes were directly in front of my own. Rage and something so terrifying filling them as they locked on the man dragging me away.
Relief slammed into me as darkness wrapped its arms around me like an old friend and pulled me close . . .
I jolted awake, my arms reaching to catch someone that wasn’t there. A sound between a sob and a scream tore through the room before I could choke it back.
My hands slammed down onto the mattress, barely keeping my torso up as my arms shook. My head fell between my shoulders like a dead weight as my breaths rushed from me mercilessly. Each strained breath sounded like an inverted scream as I tried to force the memories from my mind.
Within seconds the door to the bedroom burst open, slamming against the wall. The sound followed Beck’s frantic voice. “Lily!”
I opened my mouth to respond as my best friend rushed around, looking for a threat, but I only managed another pained cry as everything crashed into me again and again.
Hooded figures that used the dark to their advantage.
Red stains on his shirt and my carpet.
Lines and circles. Always lines and circles.
“I’m fine,” I finally forced out, my words shaky and directed at the bed. “I’m . . . I’m fine.”
“Jesus fuck, Lil.” Exhaustion crept through his tone. “You scared the living hell out of me.” He sat near me on the bed and placed a hand on one of my arms, but I jerked away from his touch.
“Don’t,” I pled. “Don’t . . . just don’t.”
“Lil,” he began softly but didn’t try to reach for me again. “Do you need me to get in touch with Kiera—?”
“No, don’t.” It felt like I’d shouted my plea, but I wasn’t sure if Beck had even heard my whispered words. “He’s working. He can’t—just don’t contact him.”
“You think work would keep him from you if you needed him?” Beck asked with a hint of amusement, but worry was still in his tone.
Kieran had been saving me for as long as I could remember. Whether from spiders and other crawling insects, or from men who tried to steal me in the night . . . saving me had been his life’s mission. It was in his blood.
It was one of the many reasons I’d fallen in love with him.
But my favorite trait of his had become his biggest flaw over the last few years, and I hated that it had come to this. Hated that I now resented him for being who he was.
Because he loved me, and my heart ached for the love we’d had, but he was a warrior through and through. And ever since that night Aric died, those instincts had slowly enveloped Kieran’s love for me, until they were all he knew.
And one word from Beck would have him running home to save me, but I needed this time alone.
I needed to process the grief and pain the nightmarish flashbacks always brought with them, and process the piece of that night I’d remembered. And I couldn’t do that with him here—not when his presence felt so suffocating.
“One of the other rooms?”
“No. He said it was in here somewhere.”
A chill crept up my spine, adding to the trembling of my body as I remembered the men’s words.
“Lil?” Beck prompted.
I gritted my teeth against the pain that felt so fresh, and instead of answering his question, whispered, “It’s been four years.”
He didn’t need to ask what I was referring to. Every year, the anniversary of Aric’s death hung like a dark, menacing cloud above the Holloway Estate as the date loomed closer.
“Four years . . . Christ. I still remember it all like it just . . .” Beck shifted on the bed and was silent so long I didn’t think he would continue. When he did, his tone was hesitant, as though he wasn’t sure he should say what he thought. “If you should be thankful for anything in your life, it’s that you weren’t there to see Kieran the day they lowered those two caskets in the ground. It didn’t matter that your casket didn’t hold your body. It didn’t matter that we all knew you were safe . . . hidden. You hadn’t said a word in nearly five days, and no one could get you to eat. To Kieran, you were in that casket, because the girl he loved was gone. He lost it. I have no doubt he would’ve killed every single one of us to get to the Borellos and avenge your deaths if your dad hadn’t grabbed a shovel and knocked Kieran out cold.”
My grief was momentarily replaced with shock from his words. My gaze snapped to Beck, but he wasn’t looking at me. His stare was distant as his head shook.
“I’ve seen men who have nothing left to live for, but I’ve never seen anything like that. Never seen a man lose it the way he did. He looked wild, completely out of control as if he would take the entire world down with him without blinking. But for that to be Kieran?” Beck blew out a slow breath that bordered on a whistle.
I understood why Beck was having such a difficult time grasping what had happened those years ago, even if he’d been there to witness it.
Kieran was calm. Kieran hardly reacted to anything.
He’d slit your throat with a blank expression and then walk away as though you’d just finished a pleasant conversation.
Then again, you couldn’t expect anything less of the man who’d trained to be an assassin from the day he took his first steps.
The only time I’d witnessed any form of fear and anguish from him had been on that night . . .
“Why didn’t you tell me before now?”
“What, you expected me to tell you when it happened?” He huffed. “By the time you could’ve handled knowing, there was no point bringing it back up. But now?” He hiked a shoulder up before letting it fall. “With the day here, and you waking up screaming . . . I don’t know. I guess I wanted you to know that you aren’t the only one who still struggles with what happened.”
If I hadn’t felt so physically exhausted, I would’ve laughed. But the thought of Kieran struggling with anything was still enough to make my eyes roll as I sat back so I could rub my head.
Beck suddenly caught my chin in his fingers, pulling me close. “Do you blame Kieran? Is that why you don’t want me to get hold of him?”
My shoulders hunched. All the air in my lungs rushed out as if his words had been a physical blow. “Of course not.”
“Because he does, Lil. Every fucking day.”
“What?” I asked, the word nothing more than a breath.
“He lost his best friend, and a huge part of the girl he loved, all because he wasn’t fast enough that night.”
“But—but Kieran hadn’t even been in the house when everything began,” I argued. “You know that! He heard—”
“It doesn’t matter. What actually happened and whatever you might say . . . it doesn’t matter to him. And to the rest of us? To your dad? It doesn’t matter that Kieran was able to save you. Nothing matters when the Borellos still killed and tried to abduct the last remaining O’Sullivan kids.”
“I know what happened, Beck,” I gritted out. “I was there.”
He grimaced, letting silence stretch between us before he gently continued. “You’re the goddamn princess of the Irish-American mob, Lil. You’re the last chance your dad has to keep O’Sullivan blood running through the Holloway Gang. We had to fake your damn death. And, yeah, you’re still here, but you’re different now. You’ve changed. I see it . . . he sees it. Because of that? Kieran’s going to blame himself for not being able to stop them that night. You can’t expect him not to.”
A flash of longing and resentment flared inside me, and I wanted to say that I wasn’t the only one who’d changed. Instead, I nodded subtly as I climbed off the bed, squeezing his hand as I did. “No, I guess I can’t. Go back to bed, Beck. Sorry I woke you.”
I turned toward the large bay window and walked over to sit on the window seat where I spent most of my time when trying to escape the world I’d been born into, or the nightmares that plagued me because of it.
I hugged one of the throw pillows close to my body and rested my head against the cool glass as I looked across the grounds toward the house I’d grown up in. The massive structure looked haunting in the grey, pre-dawn sky. My eyes automatically found the window of my old room, and their voices played through my mind again . . .
“One of the other rooms?”
“No. He said it was in here somewhere.”
I glanced over my shoulder to see Beck’s brow pinched as he studied my position. “You sure you don’t want me to get him?”
He nodded slowly, and I knew he was trying to decide whether or not to listen to me. “See you in a few hours.”
I lifted the corners of my mouth in a faint smile before looking back to the windows of my old room, replaying the memory over and over.
Every time, wondering who he was.
Every time, getting caught on the fact that my brother hadn’t looked surprised to see the Borello men there.
And every time, wondering why I had never noticed that before.