As I say the words, the vision on the screen changes and it turns back to Aria. Her arms are crossed tight, and she stands by herself awkwardly in the center room. Facing Nikolai, neither of them moving, but both of them the picture of regret.
There’s no fucking way I won’t do everything I can to hold on to her.
“Hit the towers, the front entrance, and the safe room all at once. We have more men than they do.” The words leave me the second the screen changes again.
“What about Romano?” Declan asks.
“What about him?” The anger and hate in Daniel’s tone reflects the same in every single one of us.
“He could try to make a move on us while our backs are turned,” Declan says and then cuts to a feed showing his men lining the territory. They’re ready to strike, waiting for Talvery to weaken. If we bring them down first, Romano will have us surrounded and if he desired, he could strike.
“He doesn’t know we know, not yet,” Jase answers him and then Sebastian states, “We’ll keep the north side the strongest for Talvery, pushing his men toward the heaviest side Romano has armed. We don’t have to kill them all, just enough to outnumber them. Enough to make them realize Talvery, the name, the empire, is no more.”
“It’s just like before, no one willingly dies for a dead man.” Jase’s eyes shine with the memories of all the challengers we’ve taken down in the past. The name Talvery may be old, it may hold power, but when the man is dead, the name will mean nothing.
“What’s the plan?” Jase asks me and then adds, “Step by step.”
“We need to get in close first,” I tell him. “She’s in the east wing, so we can cut the feeds, take out the east tower discreetly with no bombs, make our approach through that way and once we’re in, hit the other towers and the safe room.”
“They’ll be looking everywhere but at us,” Jase responds, nodding his head and breathing in deep. “You go in and get her, Bastian and I will come with and take out whoever comes running.”
“Kill the feeds as soon as we get close to the east tower. We’ll walk along the tree line,” I tell Declan and he’s quick to answer, “The cameras rotate every ninety seconds. You’re going to need the feeds handled before you get past this road. Or else they’ll see you coming.”
“There are men on the ground,” Jase pipes up. “Cut the feeds, we’ll get in there, kill those two fuckers outside the east tower and use them to get in.”
Sebastian looks at Declan and asks, “It’s fingerprints right?” With a nod from Declan, Jase adds, “Dead fuckers still have prints. It’ll work.”
With my brother and my friend behind me, my men surrounding the enemy and ready to wage war, it’s time. My heart pounds as I run through the forest and raise my gun, hearing the startled shouts from the towers regarding the security feeds going down. I can hear their fear; I can fucking feel it as I raise my gun in the shadows. The three of us shoot, the bullets muffled with the silencers, before the two men, men just like me, even see us. The first two men to die tonight. Their bodies are still warm, heavy and limp as we drag them to the security pad, wipe the blood from their fingers on our pants to gain entrance, and begin to end this war.
“I can’t see you with him.” Nikolai’s voice is calm, somehow sounding forgiving as he watches me pace in my father’s office.
I stare past him at the pictures on my father’s wall. There’s a picture of my mother and father, with my uncle between them. I never met him. In the photo he’s holding them close, his arms wrapped around their shoulders. It’s a black-and-white snapshot, taken just before my uncle was murdered. It’s only one of nearly a dozen pictures on the wall to the right of my father’s desk. But only that photo, and one other hold any of my attention.
I breathe in and out slowly as I stare at the second picture, trying to stand upright and not let on that anything’s wrong.
It’s Carter’s house. The Cross brothers’ home. The same photograph that’s in Carter’s foyer. An icy prick spreads over my skin and all I can hear are my shallow breaths.
I swear it’s the same. I knew when I first saw it that the picture was familiar. I thought maybe I’d been there before, but this is why it was so familiar.
My father has a picture of Carter’s old house, the house he destroyed, hung up in his office. Is it a fucking trophy? A reminder of something? My stomach roils as I cross my arms tighter, feeling more and more like a trapped animal. I wish my father were here so I could ask him. So I could face him after everything that’s happened. If he were though… I can’t even imagine where we’d begin. A lifetime has come and gone. I’m not the same person I was when I last stepped foot in this home.