“Does my father know?”
“Yes, he…” Nik’s voice gets tighter as he swallows whatever he was going to say. “He knows.”
“What is it?” I ask him, and I don’t hide the urgency in my voice when I demand, “Tell me everything.”
“We have eyes on Carter. And I know,” he struggles to keep a straight face, his fortitude failing him. “I know what he did to you,” Nik says with a sickness at the end of words. “I’m so sorry, Aria.” He breaks down in front of me, covering his eyes for a moment and apologizing over and over.
“Stop it.” My command comes out harsher than I planned and I nearly rip my hand away from him. I won’t be a charity case for sympathy.
“I swear I’ll kill him.” His expression hardens, and his eyes turn sharp. “I’ll make him pay for what he did to you.” I can see Eli shift his weight out of the corner of my eye and my pulse quickens, pounding at my temples, the adrenaline pumping harder and harder.
“No, you won’t,” I tell him quietly, grabbing his hand with both of mine. I hope he can read the message in my eyes telling him to shut the fuck up. Nik is hotheaded and reckless, but he can’t be so stupid as to say that kind of thing right now. “Stop it,” I warn him.
“After what he did to you?” he questions me, his brow furrowed, and forehead creased.
“You don’t know what he did.” It’s all I can tell him, wanting to deny any of the accusations he could throw at me, even if they’re true.
I know my expression is a mix of worry and sadness, but I can’t help it. I can’t control the emotions on my face. Not with Nikolai.
“I know enough. I’m going to kill him for it,” Nik repeats his threat, the anger coming in full force and I feel lightheaded with indignation.
“I’ll never forgive you,” I whisper the words, feeling the ache sit against my ribcage, etching into my bone and eating away at whatever soul I have left.
“What’s wrong with you?” Nik raises his voice with incredulity and backs away from me, his hands pushing against the edge of the flimsy table and inching it closer to me. He’s breathing heavily as his composure crumbles. “He’ll pay for what he did!”
“I didn’t come here to talk about that,” I say and struggle to look Nik in the eye. Belatedly, I remember what Carter told me about the men on Carlisle and what I’d planned to say.
“We’re family,” Nik reminds me, his tone wretched, his gaze covering every inch of my face and doesn’t stay steady in the least. He’s losing it. “I’ll protect you!” he declares, and I take this moment to gain control of the conversation.
“Then move the men on Carlisle,” I tell him quickly, staring into his eyes, although my words stumble into one another. Moving my hands into my lap, I resist the urge to fidget and straighten my back. “The war is between my father and Romano. Romano’s the one who took me.”
Nik’s expression is pained as he says, “This isn’t a negotiation, Aria.”
He looks over at Eli, but only for a moment before giving in and spilling the plans my father has set in motion. He barely considers withholding the information and something doesn’t feel right about it.
“The men on Romano’s turf are decoys. He’s letting them die and preparing to rampage Cross’s territory.”
I worry my bottom lip between my teeth and I struggle to breathe, but somehow manage to tell him, “Change his mind.”
“Not after what Cross did to you.”
I wish he could understand. I wish he felt like I do. I cannot fail. I won’t live to see the men I love kill each other. I won’t fucking do it!
“Then create a reason. Have Mika go up to… to…” I’m blanking on the street name that divides the territories. I’ve heard them all so many times before, but I rarely left the house. When I did, I never wandered far and so the street names mean nothing to me.
Whipping my gaze to Eli, I raise my voice and say, “Help me!” I stare at him as if he’s failing me because he is. They’re all failing me, and this is a losing cause. “The street where Romano territory meets Talvery territory.”
“Bedford.” Eli’s response comes easily. He’s not shaken in the least and I gather my composure, pushing my hair out of my face and staring at the steel table until I’m able to speak calmly.
“Bedford, move them up to Bedford,” I plead with Nik, keeping the cadence of my voice soft and even. “Please,” I beg him, desperate for him to understand.
“You think that will stop this war between Talvery and Cross?”’ he asks me with an air of ridicule. “The men you’re dealing with aren’t men who have mercy, Aria.” Nikolai talks to me as if I don’t know them and it pisses me off.