The side of the house it leads to gives me an eerie feeling. A sickness in my gut. A fear that doesn’t come from logic or truth.
The type of fear that lingers and creeps up on you. A fear of what has passed and is no longer. Death is stained in these halls. And with death, darkness.
“Where is Carter?” I ask and turn quickly, facing each man who was in that room, each man who pried me away from Carter as he lay on the floor, bleeding out with no sign of stopping.
Nikolai doesn’t answer, and neither does Sebastian. The men on my father’s side are quiet, but they watch me. I don’t care if they do.
They should all know. I love him. I chose him.
“We didn’t have time for the doctor to come to us. He’s in the hospital,” Jase answers me.
“And?” I ask, the word barely spoken.
“And we’re waiting.”
I won’t cry in front of these men. I won’t cry with an army watching my every move, an army who need strength and decisiveness. So I only nod.
“Aria, I’ll handle this,” Sebastian tells me and my cousin nods at him.
“What do we do with the house?” Connor asks. I’ve just learned he’s Nik’s second-in-command. “The cops may stay back, but reporters are going to come soon.”
The men start to talk. A few at once, and I cut them all off.
“Burn it down.” The words come from a place of hurt. A place of pain. “Burn this house to the ground,” I give each word the hate they’ve earned before turning calmly to the men, still gripping the railing and telling them, “It was a house fire… and nothing more.”
Silence and shock greet me. The house is eerily quiet, and from this day on, that’s all it will ever be.
I don’t know if these men will stick to the quick truce we’ve made or what will happen once I leave, but I’m done with all of it. The useless killing and the constant threats especially.
Before a single man can respond, I hold Jase’s gaze and demand, “Take me to him.” Finally releasing the railing, I step forward, my pace confident even as I fall apart, and head to the door. My stride doesn’t slow and it doesn’t wait for anyone.
I need Carter.
The war has changed; the players have transitioned, and pawns have been taken.
None of it matters if he dies though.
I need Carter.
Are you okay?
I stare at the message on my phone for the longest time. The hospital’s waiting room is vacant with the only exceptions being Addison and myself. I only left Carter’s side because the nurse said I had to. Only four people are allowed to be in the room at one time. Sebastian and Carter’s three brothers wanted to see him and I’d been in there since the moment we got here. It’s been ten hours now.
I slept by his side, my hand in his and my cheek on the edge of his bed. I was only in and out of sleep though and each time I fell to the depths of a dream, he was there, waiting for me.
He holds me in my dream and tells me it’s okay. But it’s not. It’s not okay. And I tell him that over and over again. He needs to come back to me. I need him here. I can’t live without him.
With tears clouding my vision, I look at the message again and instead of answering Nikolai, I ask him the same.
It took me a while to message him back, but his reply is immediate: My answer depends on yours.
“You okay?” Addison asks, breaking the silence in the room. The only sound is a clock at the far end of the waiting room clicking each time the numbers change. It mocks us.
Swallowing down the ragged lump in my throat, I grab her hand when she reaches for mine and I squeeze tight, but then I let her go, moving it back to my phone. “Just a message,” I answer her weakly. Everyone asks if I’m okay, as if that’s even a possibility right now.
Wiping under my eyes gently with the sleeve of the baggy black hoodie Sebastian gave me, I shake my head.
“I’m right here,” Addison says with a weak smile that doesn’t last. It merely flickers on her face.
“And I’m here for you,” I tell her back and she leans into me, resting her head on my shoulder for just a moment before bringing her knees into her chest and wrapping herself in the blanket Daniel gave her. The waiting room is so cold. But I suppose it’s better that way.
I didn’t expect for this to happen. I finally answer Nik.
For what? he asks.
I want to tell him – all of it. To be taken, to fall in love, to learn who I am and what I want. I haven’t told Addison or anyone about the baby. Only a nurse, who I confided in because I was scared with everything that had happened. I was scared the baby would be gone. She said she wouldn’t be able to tell me unless I was at least six weeks pregnant. So now, it’s a matter of waiting.