I know firsthand how cruel they are.
“I’m not asking for mercy, Nik. I’m asking for fucking common sense.” I practically spit the last few words. I lean back in the chair, keeping one wrist balanced on the edge of the table. “If they die, it’s because you failed.”
“Failed at what?” he asks me. “Taking charge of an army I don’t control?”
“We have control. It’s easy to take control,” I say words my father once said to me. He said I needed to be harder, that I needed to wield my name and authority. I never imagined I would heed his advice.
“Send Mika to Bedford; he’s at the top of the chain like you. No one would be surprised if he dies there, so make sure he does, Nikolai,” I harden my voice, remembering my absolute hatred for Mika and all the evil shit he’s done. “You know he deserves far less than an honorable death. Take him up there on a false pretense, shoot him in the back of the head and be done with him.” I’m nearly shaken by the venom in my tone, by how meticulously I’m planning murder and interfering with war. “Tell my father it was Romano, and that you have to retaliate. Do it tonight.”
“Mika’s dead.” It takes a moment to even comprehend what Nikolai said before he adds, “Your father killed him.”
A cocktail of incredulity and anguish mix in my blood. “What? What happened?” My questions leave me in a single breath, a quiet one as I’m too afraid to speak any louder. As if doing so would change the truth of what happened.
Nikolai glances at Eli before leaning forward and speaking in a hushed voice. “Your father thought you ran away or that you were dead. He went through the tapes and Mika was the last person to speak to you.”
With a deep breath, his eyes drift from me to Eli again before he turns his attention back to me. “He asked Mika why he was there and what he said that got you so upset.”
“And?” I question him, my voice not nearly as low as Nik’s, but it doesn’t matter. I know Eli can hear. I know they can all hear.
“Mika didn’t answer fast enough. Your father shot him in the head in front of everyone.”
“Oh, my God.” My heart pumps the blood coldly through my veins as I picture the scene and worry about what my father is thinking and everything he’s been through.
“I won’t lose sleep over Mika, but your father’s losing it, Aria.”
My chest feels like it’s collapsing, and I struggle to grab hold of every bit of anger I’ve had toward my father since I’ve been here.
“He didn’t come for me.” I can barely speak the words.
“As soon as he found out where you were, he did. We did.”
A moment passes and then another. I’ve held so much pain and anger inside of me at the thought that my father didn’t care. Fuck. I wish I knew more. I’m losing this game. Each pawn I think I can capture has already been taken before I make my first move.
“He won’t move those men or hold back against Cross, Aria. He wants justice.” He adds firmly and with a conviction that sends a shiver down my spine, “We all do.”
“This isn’t justice. It’s senseless death.” I stare into Nik’s eyes, willing him to understand me.
“You deserve justice, Aria.”
“I’m fine, Nikolai. Carter didn’t do anything to me that I didn’t want.”
Disbelief mars his handsome features. “You aren’t thinking right,” he says and slowly a look of sympathy replaces any hint of anger. “Aria, please come with me.”
“I can’t let that happen.” Eli’s quick to step closer to us, and I’m equally as quick to shove my hand against his stomach and tell him to back off. Eli takes in my expression before nodding his head and falling back into place. I don’t know what he saw on my face at that moment, but he’ll never know how much I needed him to side with me.
“I’m not leaving, Nik, and you need to find a way to move the men. Find a way,” I implore him, but not a word is getting through to him.
“I won’t let you stay here,” Nikolai says then puts both fists on the table, breathing heavier and looking at Eli.
“I won’t let you do this; I won’t let you choose to stay with a man who hurt you.”
“It’s my choice.” I don’t defend what Carter’s done. But I’ll always defend myself and my ability to control my fate, now and until the day I die. “I finally have a choice,” I tell him with a hardened voice, seeing my friend for the first time as my enemy.
“Is that what you call it?” he questions me.
“I can hide away. I can run. Or, I can know I have enemies and be prepared for what they’ll do to me,” I tell him staring into his eyes and not backing down. My shoulders shake from the sheer adrenaline and I can barely contain myself. “I don’t want you to be an enemy.”