It’s been three days since the whole disastrous fake date with Ensley. Three miserable days filled with me moping around, wishing I could take back what I did while trying to figure out how to make things right with Gregor and process who my real dad is.
My dad is Winston Maerriellie.
My dad is Winston Maerriellie, leader of the Fareland mafia.
Fuck. Shit. Fuck. I can’t even wrap my head around it.
Deep down, I know this is bad, especially if my father finds out. What I don’t understand is why my mom said Winston would hurt Elodie and me if he found out about us. Perhaps his wife would be pissed if she found out he had an affair. Yeah, that doesn’t sound like something the leader of the mafia would worry about. There has to be another reason. And my mom knows that reason. Getting the truth out of her is impossible right now, though, since I haven’t seen her since that night I confronted her. From what my dad told me this morning when I showed up to his office for work—bright and early just like he commanded—she went on a vacation to some spa. How convenient.
If she thinks hanging out at a spa is going to save her from telling me the truth, she’s wrong. I may have been a pushover—and in some ways, I still am— but if I’m ever going to put my life together—or well, get it started—I’m going to have to start standing up to my parents. Or my fake dad—who I’m going to call by his first name, Nicholas, because I can’t stand the idea of calling him dad anymore—never really could.
I wish I could already stand up to Nicholas—and I fully plan on it—but I’m taking this step by step, moving cautiously until I can figure out what’s going on. Then I’m saying peace out and starting a new life. I just hope Ensley will forgive me and want to be part of that new life.
A voice inside my head laughs at me. Yeah, fucking right. She’s never going to forgive you after what you did.
I grit my teeth at my conscious. What a fucking asshole. Granted, he’s probably an accurate fucking asshole.
Sighing, I stab the shovel into the dirt and continue digging the hole Nicholas ordered me to dig the moment I showed up at his office this morning. He’d told me to drive up on the Fareland hillside and make a right when I reached the lake. Then I was to drive out into the trees and dig a hole until he shows up. I don’t even want to know what the hole is for, but if he shows up with a heavy trash bag that reeks of rotting flesh, I’m out. I don’t care if Nicholas shits a brick. Burying a dead body is not something I’m going to do no matter the consequences.
I lift my hand and wipe the sweat from my brow, wishing I’d worn shorts. But Nicholas has a strict button-down shirt and tie dress code for whenever I work for him. So, right now, I’m sporting a light blue button shirt, a red tie, black jeans, and nice sneakers, all of which are covered in my sweat and dirt. Nicholas despises it when I wear sneakers, which is kind of why I do it. It’s my one and only act of rebellion. How fucking pathetic am I?
“Pretty fucking pathetic,” I mutter to myself then stab the shovel into the dirt again.
As I dig deeper into the ground, my thoughts drift to Ensley. She hasn’t been responding to my texts and who can blame her after what I did. Still, I keep trying because it’s all I can do. I’d be more worried about having no idea where they are, but El messaged me a few times and said they’re okay. She won’t tell me anything else, so I’m left wondering where the two of them are and what they’re doing. Or, well, I guess I should say the three of them, but I don’t like to think about the third party that went on their little road trip. Not that I don’t like Gaige, but he’s a guy and he’s with the girl I like, probably too much. I don’t like thinking about all the things they could be doing with each other. Sure, I don’t really think Ens is the sort of girl who’ll randomly hook up with someone. I mean, I’m pretty sure I was her first kiss for fuck’s sake. But sometimes people do stupid, out of character, things when they’re hurting. Like me.
I glance down at my scabbed knuckles, a painful reminder of just how stupid and out of character I’ve been acting over the last few days. Enough that I rammed my fist through my bedroom wall. It hurt like a motherfucker and I now have a huge ass hole in my wall. But the pain did momentarily distract me from my own head, so I guess there’s that.
The distraction only lasted a minute. Then the pain subsided and my mind went straight back to focusing on how bad I’ve fucked up. How Gregor is pissed off at me and is threatening to tell my fake father he’s not my real father. How if I don’t figure out a way to get Ensley to accept him, he’s going to retract his job offer. How if I do get Ensley to accept him, I’ll be betraying her again and will probably lose any chance of being with her. That is, if I even have a chance anymore.
And then, of course, there’s the fact that my real father is part of the mafia, which means that, by blood, I’m technically linked to the mafia.
Yeah, and I thought Nicholas being a corrupt lawyer was bad.
I grip the handle of the shovel and the wood scrapes at my palms. I’m probably going to have blisters tomorrow. Good. Maybe the pain will offer me another brief moment of distraction.
Unable to stand the heat any longer, I slip my tie off and peel off my shirt. Then I go back to digging, only stopping when my phone buzzes. I figure the message has to be from my dad, so I’m kind of surprised when I see Gregor flash across the screen.
I’ve only heard from him once since Friday night and he didn’t seem too thrilled when I told him I didn’t know where Ensley is. He demanded I find her and I tried—I really did—but the only people who know where she is are El, Ens herself, and Gaige. And none of them will tell me. And yes, I even caved and tried to text Gaige.
His reply: Sorry man, but El’d cut off my nuts if I told you.
I would’ve given him shit for being afraid of my sister, but El can be a pretty scary chick when she wants to be.
Walking into the shade, I lean against the side of the car and open the message from Gregor.
Gregor: Have you found my daughter yet?
Me: Not yet. I talked to my sister, though, and she said she was okay.
Gregor: I don’t want to know if she’s okay. I want to fucking know where my daughter is. Every day that passes by where you don’t bring her to me, makes me less and less willing to let you come work with me.
I grind my teeth until my jaw aches. Will there ever be a day when I’m not being threatened?
Me: I’ll figure out something soon. I promise.
Gregor: You better come through on this, Carter. It’s more important than just our deal.
Me: What does that mean?
He doesn’t respond, leaving me to worry.
But my worry is short lived as two SUVs drive up through the trees, heading straight for me. I start to panic that some stranger is about to find me in the middle of the woods, digging a hole that’s big enough to hold a body or two, but then relax as I recognize the passenger in one of the vehicles.
But who the hell is in the other car?
I soon get my answer as the vehicles come to a stop and a few people file out, one of those people being Winston Maerriellie.
Well that’s just fucking great. Not only do I have to deal with Nicholas, but I also have to deal with my real dad, the leader of the Fareland mafia, along with about five of his bodyguards.
All of them are dressed in suits as if going to some important business meeting, which makes me wonder the real reason behind the hole and why they’re here, in the middle of the woods.
“Carter.” My dad greets me as he walks up and measures up the hole. “It looks like you actually listened for once.”
I resist an eye roll. I almost always listen and that’s part of the reason I’m in this mess.
I stuff my phone into the back pocket of my jeans and try my best not to eyeball Winston, worried he’ll somehow realize the truth. “So what’s up with the hole?”
“That’s none of your damn business.” He rubs his jawline. “You can pack up and leave. Just make sure to go home, take a shower, and wash your clothes.”
Great. He definitely has to be using the hole to bury a body. Does that make me an accomplice? Fuck, I think it does.
Despite how much I want to shake my head, I nod, pick up my shirt and slip it back on. Then I stuff my tie into my back pocket, collect the shovel, and round to the back of the vehicle. As I’m stuffing the shovel into the trunk, Winston approaches Nicholas.
“You think this is the best place for this to happen?” he asks Nicholas while assessing the hole.
“Have I ever steered you wrong before?” Nicholas asks, crossing his arms.
Winston shakes his head. “But I want to be careful with this one. Gregor isn’t like the others we’ve gone after. He’s got more connections and power than them, which means he can fight back.”
Nicholas’s brows elevate. “You’re nervous?”
Winston’s lips twist into a smirk. “Nervous? I thought you knew me better than that.”
“You’re right. My mistake.” Nicholas pauses. “I just wonder how you think Gregor is going to react if he finds out what we did to his precious first.”
First what? First born? Are they talking about Ens?
I tense. What is Winston planning to do?
“Oh, he’s going to find out. That’s all part of the plan. But he can’t find out until everything is done and the body’s already rotting—then he’ll have no choice but to break,” Winston says with a maliciously pleased grin. “Broken men are easier to take down.”
“That they are,” Nicholas agrees with a bob of his head. “It’s why I refuse to have anything in my life worth breaking for.”
I mentally roll my eyes as I shut the trunk and head for the driver’s side. Give a round of applause for the father of the year.
Winston nods in agreement. “That’s always been Gregor’s weakness. He never could fully let go of the people he cares for. It’s selfish of him really, considering the world he chooses to live in.”
“It really is.” Nicholas shields his eyes from the sunlight flickering through the tree branches above. “I still can’t believe he thought you wouldn’t find out he had a daughter. A real one.”
I’m about to open the door, but freeze as terror lashes through me. Are they talking about Ruby or Ensley?
“He should know better,” Nicholas adds. “All those years wasted not seeing her just so in the end you can find out about her. He should’ve completely cut ties with her, but he couldn’t just let her go. And now you’ve found his weakness.”
“Well, you found her for me.” He grips Nicholas’s shoulder. “Your loyalty has earned you a place in my family.”
No… There’s no fucking way they could’ve found Ensley. They can’t be going after her. I must be misunderstanding them.
Then another thought occurs to me. Holy shit, is Nicholas joining the mafia?
“As I promised, your daughter won’t be touched when we go to pick up Gregor’s first.” Winston releases Nicholas’s shoulder. “I just need access to the tracking device on her car.”
My heart violently thrashes against my chest. They’re going after Ensley? They know where she is? Why do they keep referring to Ensley as Gregor’s first? Does Nicholas have a tracking device on Ens car? Does that mean he has one on mine too? Does he know I’ve been secretly meeting with Gregor for the last few months?
Hopefully not, but it doesn’t really matter right now. What matters is saving Ensley. I need to text El what’s going on and then tell Gregor. Hopefully, he’ll know what to do. Because while I want to protect her, I’m not stupid enough to think I can fight against the entire Fareland mafia all by myself.
Doing my best to shove my nerves aside—because the last thing I want to do is appear nervous in front of these guys—I open the door to climb in.
“Carter,” Nicholas calls out.
I turn around, my heart a nervous wreck. “Yeah?” Thank God, my voice comes out even.
He stares at me for a beat or two longer and I fight not to squirm. “You understand that what’s said here, stays here, right? If not, you’ll have a place right beside the hole you just dug.”
I nod. “Yeah, I understand.”
My fake father gives me a fake smile. “Good. I’ll see you at home.”
Nodding, I climb into the car and drive out of the trees, moving slower than I want to. But seeming too eager will only make me look suspicious. Once I’m out of sight, I dial Gregor’s number and put the call on speakerphone. He doesn’t answer, so I leave a message on the voicemail, telling him to call me ASAP, that Ens is in danger. I consider calling the cops, but I’m pretty sure Winston is paying the sheriff off. I try to call Ens, but of course she doesn’t answer. I call El and Gaige too, but neither of them pick up. So, I send Ens and El a message, hoping to God that one of them reads it.
Then I press down on the gas and speed like a motherfucker toward Gregor’s office.