“I’m so sorry, Aria,” he says and holds me tight, although his voice is tense.
“It’s not your fault,” I tell him, because it’s true. This is the life we lead and breed. No one is to blame for the hate and havoc it brings. It simply exists.
“I’m scared,” I confess against his chest. The smell of soft leather and spiced cologne wraps around me just as his arms do.
“You think you love him, and considering what he did, I understand.” It’s almost shocking to hear his words, but then he whispers, “I’m not sorry that I have to kill him.”
My body stiffens in his embrace but if my father realizes that, he doesn’t let on. A single breath leaves me and my eyes open, staring at the wall across from my father’s desk where the pictures stare back at me. “I should have done it long ago,” he says as I pull back slightly, wanting nothing more than to run once again. Run far, far away, I think as my fingers drift past my belly and I back away from my father. Pulling back from my father, I see his eyes are as cold and dark as they ever were.
One step, then two.
The second step comes with the shaking of the ground. A rumble at first, but then a movement so sharp, I nearly lose my step.
Bombs. One after another and seemingly all around us. Harsh intakes of air. A spike of fear and adrenaline.
We’re under attack. And I don’t know if it’s Romano…. or if it’s Carter coming for me.
Men scream, but not the two I’m with though. They’re silent as I fall to the ground on my ass and move to the edge of the room. To hide in the corner and brace myself there. The explosions are close, but not close enough to hit us. Still, they keep coming. Each one sounding closer than the last.
Nikolai and my father don’t seek cover like I do. They act like they expected it as they simply brace against the wall of the room, letting each rocking blow hit without a difference in their expression.
The ground shakes and the sounds of explosions reverberate through the room. The bombs must be close, because the shelves jostle and with it, books fall. I watch the gun as it rattles on the desk, the metal skimming along the edge as it finds its way closer to falling, but somehow manages to hang on, even as the monitor crashes to the floor, cracking the frame and forcing a scream from me with the next loud explosion.
That makes seven.
The lamp’s shifted to the edge of the desk, where it topples in slow motion at the last blast. It hits the gun Nikolai left there on the corner, and my father’s gaze lingers on the steel.
“Boss.” Nik’s voice is stern, direct, almost a statement rather than a question and the hard gaze between two men verifies my father recognizes that too.
“What can I do to help?” Nik’s question is casual, at ease this time.
“Seven,” I whisper the word, daring to go against the wishes of my frozen body. The only thing I can feel is the numbing tingle of fear. But I counted seven. “Seven explosions.” My father’s eyes stay on mine and only when he turns his attention to Nikolai am I able to breathe again. He doesn’t answer me, he doesn’t say a damn word to me as I stay where I am, hunkered down and counting each second from now until another bomb will hit. But the next one never comes.
The heavy footsteps carry through the room and in time with my quickened pulse as my father walks around his desk, kicking his fallen computer as he does. My shoulders hunch forward and my eyes slam shut at the cracking sound of the screen.
I shudder again when Nikolai lays a hand on my back, splayed and meant to comfort. I can’t help but to let out a short cry and back away until I see it’s him.
“Fuck,” I gasp out and try to calm my racing heart. It’s too much. This world is too much.
“You’re all right here,” Nik tells me and the moment he does, my father commands him away.
“Get down to the west wing. Get Connor and the rest of them. Block anyone who comes in.” I’ve never seen my father look the way he does now. With both of his hands lightly placed on his desk as he stands at its head, everything on top of the sleek black surface is in disarray and even the paintings behind him are crooked.
The room reflects nothing of the controlled, powerful man who’s ruled from that very spot for years. And neither does the look in his eyes. There’s a sadness wrapped around the dark swirls of his gaze. And a sense of acceptance, plus a tiredness I’ve never seen.