Before he grabs it, we both stop breathing at the sound of someone bounding up the stairs. Conner comes up around the corner, looking around at his damaged living room before his eyes rest on us. All the blood drains from his face, looking like he might pass out, when his gaze finds the dagger in my arm.
“Holy shit,” he breathes, falling to his knees on my right side.
“She’ll be okay,” Cadmar says tightly, but concern coats his tone. “I need to get it out, but since you’re up here, could you find me some gauze and medical tape, if you have it?”
Conner stares at my shoulder for another second, and then looks at Scarlet’s unconscious body on the other side of the room. He looks pissed, but it seems better than looking like he might faint. “Yeah, I’ll go get a first-aid kit,” he says.
He gets up and hurries to the door just beyond the living room. I try to breathe while he’s gone, but even the slightest movement is painful, making the dagger shift. Cadmar’s heavy hand rests on my wrist and I’m glad I can feel it; at least there isn’t any nerve damage. Conner’s out of the bathroom holding a white box, within a few seconds. He hands the box to Cadmar then sits on my right side again, softly holding my hand, but trying not to touch the split knuckles.
Cadmar examines the contents of the box, taking out some gauze, antibacterial cream, alcohol wipes and non-stick medical tape. He shifts on his knees, getting himself in a better position to pull the dagger out. I turn my head toward Conner, trying not to think about the pain I’m about to feel.
“Why don’t you distract her?” Cadmar suggests to Conner.
Conner gives him a hard look then looks down at me, his eyes gentle. Softly brushing his hand over my sore cheek, he leans down, lightly brushing his lips against mine. I want to chuckle at first, because I’m sure this isn’t what Cadmar meant by distracting me, but it sure is working. He kisses me deeply, his tongue tracing my mouth as Cadmar grips the hilt of the dagger. I grit my teeth, groaning loudly against his mouth at the terrible pain of the blade leaving my arm. It’s as if the muscles it was embedded in didn’t want to let it out. They tug against the blade, making me want to throw up.
“It’s out,” Cadmar says tightly, but I already knew that. Conner pulls back and looks at my arm. “That wasn’t really what I had in mind for a distraction,” Cadmar growls at him. “But it worked, so…thank you…I guess.” He looks at me with a gentle expression and sighs. “We need to take your coat off so I can clean it.”
I nod without saying anything. They help me lean forward, and I clench my teeth again while they guide the coat off. The small bit I have to move my shoulder back sends a shooting pain down my spine and into my stomach. When it’s off, I don’t look at my shoulder; instead, I look back at Conner, who is looking at my shoulder. I already know my whole arm is covered in blood; I could feel it trickling down and soaking into my coat after Cadmar took the blade out.
“It’s so much.” Conner shakes his head in disbelief. “Will she be okay?”
“She’ll be fine,” Cadmar answers, getting to work on cleaning off the blood. “This is normal. At least, normal in the sense of a stab wound. I’ll only be able to do so much with this; we’ll have to stitch it when we get home.”
I try to nod as wrappers are torn and the scent of alcohol fills the air before the cool touch of the wipe is on my arm. I still don’t look because the metallic scent of the blood up here, mixed with the alcohol, makes me nauseas enough as it is. I start to drift off, and the rest of their conversation sounds as if it’s far away.
“Where are Bryn and Eva?” Cadmar asks as he continues to clean my arm.
“They’re in the car already,” Conner answers, his hand softly trailing up and down my right arm. “Kay put the car in the garage and I took them out there while you guys were up here. Reiley and Kay are waiting in the Jeep around the corner for you.”
“Thank you for keeping them out there,” Cadmar says as he starts cleaning around the wound. I flinch at the sting of the alcohol. “I didn’t want them fighting with their sisters and ending up hurt, as well.”
“But you were okay with Payton getting hurt.” Conner sounds angry.
“Of course I wasn’t okay with her getting hurt,” Cadmar says with pain in his voice. “She’s more experienced than any of them, and I knew she could handle Bryn and Eva by herself. I wasn’t expecting her to come to my rescue.”
“Then why didn’t you tranquilize her right when you saw her?” Conner asks, still sounding upse. I try to open my eyes to look up at him, but they just don’t want to open.
“We had some things to settle,” Cadmar growls. “I wanted to hurt her, for hurting them. When I saw Payton was up here, I knew Scarlet would hurt her if she could and I didn’t stop her quickly enough.”
This sounds odd, as if he’s talking to himself more than to Conner. They’re silent for a few minutes as Cadmar lightly presses gauze to my shoulder and wraps it with the non-stick tape. Surprisingly, this makes it feel better, but I know it will hurt if I try to move it.
Conner squeezes my right shoulder. “You okay?”
It takes a ton of effort, but I get my eyes to open. He and Cadmar watch me closely, like I’m a bomb about to go off. “Yeah.” I clear my throat. “Yeah, I’m okay.” They both look relieved.
“We need to clean this up before your dad gets home.” Cadmar gestures around the room. “I’ll take Scarlet down to the car. Can you help her get up and move her downstairs?”
“No, just help me up. I’ll help clean.” They both give me a hard look and I shake my head, rolling my eyes. “I’ll be fine. It feels better. Help me get my coat back on and get up.”
Cadmar makes a frustrated noise then looks at his watch. “Fine, help her up,” he says tightly, then walks over to Scarlet. Leaning down, he hefts her over his shoulder as Conner helps me to my feet. He turns, facing us again with Scarlet slung over his shoulder, her face in his back. “It’s half past six; we need to hurry. If I’m not back when your dad gets home, I’ll go meet the girls at the Jeep. I want you two following right behind me, whether or not your dad comes. Understand?”
We nod and he heads down the stairs. Conner helps me get my coat back on, and then we glance around the living area, seeing everything we need to clean up. Luckily, there isn’t too much blood smeared on the floor; it’s mostly shifted furniture and lamps to pick up.
“Do you want to go get some wet towels or something?” I ask Conner. “I’ll clean up the first-aid kit and start picking the lamps and vases up.”
“Don’t do too much,” he says tightly. “You don’t need to hurt yourself even more.”
“Fine.” I sigh and start cleaning up the alcohol wipes.
I move as quickly as I can, but my left arm can’t move at all without it hurting. Just getting the first-aid kit cleaned up seems to take me forever. By the time Conner is back with the towels, I finally have it put away in the bathroom. I go around the room, picking the vases up, putting the flowers back in them and the lamps on the tables. After getting the furniture moved into place, he gets started on the blood, but we both stop moving when we hear the front door slam open downstairs.
“Shit,” Conner breaths. My heart stops, a knot forming in my stomach.
“Conner?” His dad’s angry voice booms through the house.
I try to help him with the blood, but he drops the towels and rushes toward me, grabbing my hand. “Don’t worry,” he whispers as his name is yelled again. “It might help him understand if he sees all of this.”
“Bullet holes?” Charles yells downstairs, obviously having seen what Bryn did. This is getting bad fast.
“But my family did this.” I shake my head, trying to keep calm. “He’ll know I had something to do with this, I’m sure.”
“It’s okay,” he assures me, pulling me toward the stairs.
We’re at the landing when his dad is almost to the top of the stairs. He looks up at us, his eyes moving over our clasped hands then slowly all over me, stopping with bulging eyes on my face. His gaze snaps to Conner as he sputters incomprehensibly.
“What happened here? Are you hurt? What’s going on?” Charles sputters over all of this.
“Dad, calm down,” Conner tries to sooth him.
It doesn’t work.
“Calm down?” Charles demands, his eyes bugging out even more. “Those are bullet holes on your door frame. Am I right?”
“Mr. Evans,” I begin, but Conner clenches my fingers so hard my knuckles scream in protest. His dad turns a disgusted look on me, as if he already knows this is entirely my fault.
“Payton, don’t,” Conner interrupts before I can explain. He gives me a look I can’t read then looks back at his dad. “Dad, I can’t explain everything, but you’re in danger. We’re in danger here.”
“Conner, you will tell me what happened here and you will start by telling me what this girl is doing here.” He waves a hand in my direction, but doesn’t look at me.
“She’s here to help us.” He squeezes my hand again and I try to ignore the pain in my knuckles. My stomach is in my throat. This is terrible, but at least he didn’t show up half an hour ago. “She started by helping me get home.”
“This little girl helped you get home?” He balks.
Ouch. I’m not that little.
“Don’t talk down to her like that.” Conner wraps his arm around my waist, causing his dad to glare at me. This is a disaster. Such a disaster. “Yes, she did help me get home, which I wouldn’t have needed help with if you hadn’t left me.”
“You were missing!” Charles shouts, his hands fisting at his sides. “I had no idea where you were, and you weren’t answering your phone, so I guessed you ran off with her.” He pauses to sneer at me for a good long second.
Conner sighs. “You would think, as my dad, you would have gone searching for me or at least waited a few more days. But no, my cold-hearted, bastard of a dad left his only son in a foreign country.”
Charles sputters as I wrap my arm around Conner now, trying to comfort him as he’s already done for me so many times. I know how bad it hurt him, how upset he was when his dad left him. His dad really is a cold-hearted bastard, and I could slap him for being so terrible to his son.
“Stop acting like a child,” Charles finally demands. “I knew you could take care of yourself, because you’re an adult and you obviously got home just fine. I had business to take care of. I couldn’t sit around waiting for you to be responsible.”
“It always comes back to business,” Conner says to himself. It’s terrible, standing here in silence, but I feel like I should keep my mouth shut because I might make things worse by telling Charles what I think of him. “You’re business is what put us in danger.” He pauses, squeezing my hip and pulling me closer into his side. “Someone came here to kill us, dad.”
Charles balks again, his mouth opening and closing like a fish out of water. He sobers, moves up two steps to get in Conner’s face. “How do you know that?” he demands. “Maybe it was someone from your ‘fight club’ or whatever that is. Maybe someone angry with you.”
Wow. I absolutely loathe how his dad is treating him. He doesn’t even care that fighting is what Conner loves. It’s just an inconvenience, keeping his son from joining the family business.
“You’re seriously going to pin this on me?” Conner’s jaw tightens as he breathes deeply, closing his eyes. “I am not telling you everything, but I know for a fact they were here for you. You know what you do is dangerous; you’ve always known people might come for you. Now, they have.”
“Well, what happened?” Charles demands again, getting more in Conner’s face. I want to move, but Conner’s fingers dig into my hip, holding me in place. “Where are these people who came? If you’re so sure they were here for me, why aren’t they still here, waiting for me?”
“Because I got them to leave,” he lies easily. “They must have realized you weren’t here, so they left. Not without a fight, though, and they might come back.”
“I don’t believe this,” Charles snarls, and I notice Conner’s free hand clenching into a fist. “You need to tell me what happened here. This girl looks like she was hit with a shovel.”
I flinch. I know I look terrible, but he’s lucky he didn’t see the dagger stuck in my arm.
“I said I can’t say, and I won’t, but we need to get out of here.”
Charles makes a frustrated noise, but his gaze moves past Conner, looking around the alcove to the bloodstained floor. The blood drains from his face and he goes to shove between us, but Conner stops him with a hand on his shoulder.
“Dad,” Conner says calmly. I don’t know how he is. How can we explain this to his dad without telling him I was the one who was supposed to kill him?
“I demand to know what happened,” Charles grits through clenched teeth, giving Conner a sharp look. “Did someone die here?”
“No,” Conner assures him firmly. “The people who left weren’t uninjured.”
Charles’ eyes shift between us before his fuming glare rests on me. He leans close into my personal space and I instantly recognize it as his bullying tactic. I lift my chin; he will not bully me.
“This is your fault.” He practically spits in my face, jabbing a finger at me. I stand my ground, even though it’s taking a lot of concentration to stay upright. I’m suddenly feeling weak and dizzy. “Ever since we ran into you in Chile, everything has been a mess. You stole my son, and now you’ve brought all this trouble on us. I have people trying to kill me and my son, and I know you have something to do with it.”
“I’m trying to help you,” I insist, but my voice sounds weak.
“Help us by destroying everything?” He tilts his head, giving me a condescending look. Then he looks back at Conner, brushing me off. “Who is this girl? You’ve never mentioned her before. Chile was the first time I’ve seen her. How did you meet? She obviously knows too much about us.”
If I had more strength, I would get in his space and smack him. Tell him off for being such a terrible dad to such an amazing guy. He’s just a giant bully, and Conner deserves better. Conner drops his arm from around me, his fists clenching at his sides as he gets in his dad’s face. I try not to sway, but I have absolutely no strength left and every part of my body hurts. I would give anything to be lying in a bed right now. They don’t say anything; they just have a long stare-down where they seem to be having a silent conversation.
“Payton.” Conner turns pleading eyes on me after a long, agonizing minute, but I don’t know what he’s pleading for. “I think you should go.”
Those five words shatter me, blasting through my remaining strength. I sway on my feet, trying to keep steady. Through everything, all of the pain and anguish of the last seventy-two hours, the one thing I was sure of was him being by my side. Of me keeping him safe, but selfishly, having my best friend with me. Now, he’s dismissing me. I think over the last ten minutes, trying to see where this came from, what I did wrong, but I come up short.
He steadies me with a hand on my shoulder, his dark-green eyes piercing me. I want to demand to know why he wants me to go. To tell him he has to come with me, because he won’t be safe here, but I don’t. He wants me to leave. Without him. He knows I will because I respect him.
“Please,” he adds, and it’s more like a smack in the face than a plea.
I don’t want him to see how shattered I am, so I nod without a word and lift my chin. I need some semblance of dignity here. Charles crosses his arms over his chest and gives me a satisfied glare. He knows he won; his son chose to stay with him rather than go with me. My heart throbs in my throat, slowly breaking into little pieces. I turn on my heel before I can allow myself to hit Charles for being so horrible and head down the stairs. I half-expect Conner to pull me back for a hug or a kiss or the slightest touch, but my hope is feeble. Before I break down, I hurry to the garage as fast as my legs allow, briefly hearing their shouting start up again.