Night had fallen and the stars were out in full force, millions upon millions of tiny twinkling white lights winking down at Aiden as he stared up at them, wondering if maybe they were tiny pieces of God watching over him, because only something that great could have him sitting in the small fast food restaurant off the side of the motorway opposite Ava, unscathed. Once again, he’d come so close to having his dreams scattered and this time he really didn’t think they were going to make it out, not because that situation had been any worse that the others that had tried to come for his neck, but because the longer they ran the more tiresome escape came. He didn’t have his family or the Mafia, or the comforts of his hideouts to fall back on, all he had was his will to survive…and her.
He had Ava.
He sipped black coffee and watched with bittersweet amusement at the way she’d abandoned all of her debutant propriety and was demolishing a large plate of chips drowned in ketchup, that made her fingers and mouth red and sticky. Her appetite had returned with a vengeance, and though she resembled an unkempt, overgrown toddler, the sight still made him smile.
She felt him looking and paused chewing, her cheeks so full that her mouth couldn’t close all the way. Her eyes fixated on the white teeth that peaked between full his lips for a moment. In that moment, with that smile, she almost forgot that he was a murderous psychopath.
She swallowed, snatched the paper napkin from around her untouched cutlery, wiped her fingers and cleaned sauce from her lips with her tongue, not missing that it was now him fixating on her lips. She sat straighter and rolled her eyes, then picked up her fork to continue her meal.
He made a quiet snickering sound and leant back in his chair, “No need to stand on ceremony for me, Ava-Marie.”
She stabbed her fork into her chips and gave him her best glare to make up for her moment of weakness.
She hadn’t uttered a word to him since she told him she was going to the bathroom back at the petrol station. He’d tried to get her to speak to him but she was so adamant that even when they got to the restaurant and he asked her what she wanted to order, she hailed and spoke to the server herself.
There were seven other customers in the linoleum tiled eatery; behind them, an elderly couple and their two grandchildren, who they seemed glad to have finally silence with food, and three men a few tables away from them, one of whom who was looking in Ava’s direction for the third time.
Three times too many for Aiden’s liking. He glowered at him, waiting for him to realise that he had no business looking at her that way, or at all for that matter, but the man seemed transfixed.
That or he didn’t care.
Ava followed Aiden eyes and noticed her dark-haired admirer for the first time, and when he smiled at her, she blushed and giggled at his brazen attitude, mildly impressed that he would dare to ignore Aiden’s steadily intensifying irritation.
“Stop it,” he said evenly, loud enough that only she could hear.
She rolled her eyes and toyed with a loose pink curl, keeping eye contact. She wasn’t particularly enraptured by her admirer, but it pissed Aiden off.
“Did you hear what I said?”
She smiled at her dark-haired admirer and his smile grew wider.
Under the table, Aiden’s hand slid onto her thigh.
Her smile faltered and her laughing eyes met his very serious ones. Her breath faltered.
“Ava-Marie,” he purred menacingly in a way that (regrettably) made sleeping butterflies stir, “Whatever game you think you’re playing, end it,” his grip tightened, “Now.”
She blinked at him, recalibrating her senses, then swiped his hand away. She focused on her plate and distracted herself with eating, hating that she could still feel the heat of his touch through her clothes. Hating that her blush was deepening.
Hating that he noticed.
Her dark-haired admirer leant across his table and mumbled something to his friends. Aiden pretended not to notice when they all peered over, but this time no one was looking at Ava.
They were looking at him.
Ava rose suddenly and Aiden caught her by the hem of her top, “Where are you going?”
She wasn’t going to answer, but the tension in his voice made her pause. “Bathroom…what’s wrong?”
“Nothing’s wrong,” he smiled, and rose to stand beside her. He lifted her coat from the back of her chair and held it open behind her. She felt his warmth and the solidity of his body press against her back. With her hunger and headaches no longer a factor, her senses were once again aligned to him, and as he grazed his soft lips against her earlobe, a lone butterfly arose in her stomach. “I think your boyfriend and his friends are following us,” he whispered.
Ava began to turn her head.
“Don’t look,” he snapped quietly. “If I’m right, the worst thing we can do is let them know that we’re onto them.”
“You’re sure?” she stepped into her coat, her heart rate spiking with a mixture of nerves of the potential danger of these men and the way Aiden’s arms closed around her. She wasn’t sure which one was worse.
His mouth dipped lower and brushed against the racing pulse point on her neck. He spoke softly against her skin, “When we get outside, follow me to the car, but don’t get in.”
He couldn’t see the expression on her face, but he was sure she wasn’t masking her emotions the way he’d hoped his distractions should have made her. He spun her to face him and pulled her into his embrace. Her resistance to him made the movement rigid. He smiled down at her tense expression and tucked the pink tuft of hair she’d twirled around her finger for the dark-haired man, under her cap, “Relax, Heaven,” it wasn’t safe to call her by her name anymore, “We’re a normal couple, having a normal conversation, okay?”
She nodded stiffly, “Sure. Normal. Got it.” Her returning smile tugged on taut lips, spreading them too thin, “How’s that?”
His hand slipped inside of her coat, then up the back of her top and rough fingers traced soft figures of eight around her dimples at the base of her spine. He brushed his pelvis against hers, reminding her of what she’d sworn off of and Ava’s excuse for a smile shifted to parted lips. She squirmed against him feeling that familiar heat climb up her skin and flush her face. His gaze intensified, “That’s better,” he purred, bumping the tips of their noses together. “When you get to your side of the car, make a run for it… Nod so that I know you’re paying attention to what I’m saying,” he suppressed a smirk.
She cleared her throat and bobbed her head up and down.
They exited the restaurant, his arm snaked around her waist, his fingers still drawing patterns on her bare skin underneath her clothes. “There’s a small alleyway on the side of the building. Get low and crawl to it as fast as you can, get behind the dumpster and stay there until I come for you.”
She felt something heavy land in her coat pocket.
“Just in case you need it.”
“What am I supposed to do with a gun?”
“You say that like you don’t know how to handle one,” he cocked his brow, “Which is funny because you pointed one at me just fine in the middle of my brother’s funeral.” He glanced down at her out of the corner of his eye, and for the first time, Ava considered the fact that Aiden may be mad at her.
Her mouth tightened. “I did what Max told me to do…before you murdered him,” she bit back.
“Well, if something goes wrong and they find you, do what your dead bodyguard told you to do.”
She jerked away from him. All the feelings he’d sparked with his erogenous distractions in the restaurant extinguished as an all too familiar pang of loss stung her chest. “He was my friend.”
They stopped at the car and Aiden fixed her with empty black eyes, “Just make sure you pull the trigger this time,” he sneered. He pulled open the car door, “Go!”
She swallowed her nerves and the remnants of her stupid feelings. They didn’t belong here. She needed to stop falling prey to his seduction. He only used it to manipulate her, that’s all he’d ever done, and because no man had ever come to her with such sexual prowess, she’d thought him electric, and worthy of her. She clenched her fist -she was wrong! What they had wasn’t special; it was…
She shook her head and dropped to the tarmac then took off, crouched, with her palms to the ground, zipping between the cars as fast as she could, the heaviness of the gun slapping against her thigh reminding her of how dire the situation was. She slipped between the small space between the building and tucked herself behind the large steel dumpster, holding her breath against the smell of built up rancid oils and rotting produce. She edged her back closer to the grimy brick wall, making sure not to touch anything, and waited.
Aiden revved the engine.
Ava peered between the slither of space between the back of the dumpster and the wall and watched as he took off without her.
The he was gone and she was alone.
She was alone and armed, and the weight of the gun didn’t feel as heavy as it had a moment ago. It felt as light as an opportunity. She’d been stuck to his side for weeks and now he’d sped away from her hoping that his manipulation was enough to make her stay put.
She rolled her shoulder back and straightened her spine with a new resolve; she was going to get away this time. She’d be stupid not to. She didn’t have any food, clothes or money, but she told herself she’d figure something out. What other choice did she have? It was either run now or stay trapped with Aiden. No, she was a Lockewood, dammit! Whatever her father was, he’d never been a coward and he hadn’t raised her to be one, so it was time she started acting like it.
She zipped up her coat and stood up.
No sooner did her head peek over the top of the dumpster did the dark-haired man and his friends rush out of the restaurant. She dropped back down, slipped her hand clammy into her pocket and clutched the handle of the gun.
Their eyes scoured the car park and the shortest one cursed, “Look what you did, Junie!”
The dark-haired one, Junie, pulled a small comb out of his pocket and scraped his glossy locks back into place, “It’s fine, I saw which way they went.”
“If you hadn’t been making goo-goo eyes at her they’d be here and we could have kept to the plan.”
“I couldn’t help myself. I mean, did you see her? No wonder Vince kept her a secret.”
Ava’s brow furrowed. Were these her father’s men?
A lurid smile crept onto the shorter one’s face, “D’you reckon Max got his leg over?”
Ava narrowed her eyes.
“He’d be stupid not to. I might give it a go though.” He stuck his tongue out and winked.
She tightened her grip on the gun.
“Hey, I wasn’t the only one making eyes, mate.” Junie bent down and checked his reflection in the side mirror of the silver Honda.
“Oi,” the oldest of the group snarled as he pushed Junie out of the way and yanked open the car door, “Will you two stop fuckin’ jabbering and get in. If we lose her Chris will do one.”
They climb inside, and Junie spoke gruffly into his phone with his eyes trained on the direction Aiden drove off in. They followed his trail.
“Oh god,” she exhaled and collapsed against the grimy brick wall. Aiden was right, they were being followed…by Chris’s men. She wondered what changed. Why was her godfather interested in finding her now when he was more than happy to watch her get dragged off kicking and screaming by the Diamond Mafia back at the cemetery?
Thank god Aiden left her behind. From where she was standing, being captured for Chris by Junie and his friends seemed a like a worse fate.
A burst of panic tremored through her -what if they caught him and realised she wasn’t with him? Would they come back here looking for her? Or…what if they killed him? She jutted out her jaw. “So what?” she shrugged, forcing her voice to sound hasher so she could believe in her own indifference. If they killed Aiden then he couldn’t come looking for her. At least she’d definitely be free of him.
She edged out of the alleyway and took off running in the opposite direction.
Aiden peered into his rear-view mirror and monitored the cars behind him. He shifted into different lanes and turned down random roads into obscure neighbourhoods, filtering out the rubble until he was on a quiet street away from general traffic and there was only one car cruising quietly a safe distance away from him.
The silver Honda.
It was too dark to see if it was the men from the restaurant but he was sure he could see three figures arguing with each other in his rear view. Thank god it was dark; it wasn’t obvious that Ava wasn’t with him yet. He was sure exactly who these men were after, but just in case it was her, he needed to get to take them down before they realised.
He increased his speed and zipped around another corner into a cul-de-sac, and before they had time to turn the corner and catch him, he pulled in to a parking space hidden deep between the high hedges of a semi-detached and waited for them to pass. He quickly turned the car off.
The silver Honda cruised past him, three sets of eyes searching the dark for any sign of him. After no luck but figuring he couldn’t have gone far, they pulled into a space on the opposite side of the road and turned the headlights off.
Aiden screwed his silencer onto the barrel of his pistol.
“I told you he was onto us,” the shorter one said, slamming the car door behind him.
“Yeah, yeah,” Junie rolled his eyes, exiting the other side. “Wherever they are, they can’t have gone far. It’s a dead end.”
The older man stayed behind the wheel, “Both of you shut the fuck up and find them.”
Aiden slipped out of his car and kept to the shadows as he crept to the entrance of his hiding place, his heartbeat thumping in his ears and his beast bristling in his bones. He waited until the two men were spread far enough apart on opposite ends of the street to sneak behind perfectly pruned trees and expensive cars to the driver’s side of theirs. He opened the door and reached in, clamping his large hands over the older man’s mouth before tugging him out by his head onto the pavement. The man’s cries for help were muffled and his legs flailed about until Aiden wrapped his own around them, locking his frame in place within the bulk of his muscles. He gritted his teeth against the strain the man’s fussing was putting on the partially healed gunshot wound in his shoulder, his fingers desperately trying to pry Aiden’s away in the hope that his partners would come to his rescue.
Aiden cupped his jaw then moved the other to his forehead and twisted.
The body went limp.
He laid the older man on the ground and took his place behind the wheel of the silver Honda. He revved the engine with a bright white smile and a glint in his eye, waiting for the moment the others would see him sitting triumphantly in their partners place.
“HEY!” The shorter man on the right end of the street came running with his gun cocked.
Aiden laughed maniacally and stomped down on the gas pedal, ducking and swerving through the onslaught of bullets meant for his head, racing towards his perpetrator, roaring with glee as the front bumper collided with flesh and bone and sent the man flying. He chased the body down the street, rolled the car over him, then reversed slowly, listening out of the dull satisfying crunch of breaking bones encased in flesh.
Junie’s bullets shattered the back window.
Aiden stopped laughing and ducked. He swung the car around to face Junie, the man who’d so brazenly smiled at Ava. Aiden cocked his head to the side and waved, teeth bared, unsmiling.
Lights from previously sleeping homes snapped on and curtains fluttered with morbid curiosity and prying eyes, lighting Junie’s way as he turned on his heel and ran from Aiden Michaels.
Stuff like this didn’t happen in the suburbs so Aiden knew it was only a matter of time until the police arrived. With no time to waste, he revved the engine and chased Junie down, swerving so the Honda swung out in front of him and blocked his path.
With nowhere to go, Junie raised his gun to fight for his life, but Aiden’s quick-fire fingers shot out of the window and pierced his knee with a bullet. Junie’s arm went askew as the shock of pain took caused him to lose balance and he squeezed the trigger, putting out the overhead street lamp in the process. He howled and toppled to the floor.
Aiden jumped out of the Honda with his gun cocked. “Who are you?”
Junie growled and refocused his aim. He fired at Aiden’s chest but his target only stumbled back and grunted.
Thank god for bullet proof vests.
Black eyes on fire, Aiden growled through gritted teeth and shot Junie in his hand, blasting his weapon out of reach in the process.
He stamped down on his neck, suffocating his cries of anguish, “WHO ARE YOU?”
“Fuck you,” Junie spat, cradling his hand and his knee.
Aiden towered over the last man standing, the darkness of the blown lamp making his hulking frame all the more menacing, his dark skin blending with the shadows till he looked more myth than man. He stooped lower and brought his face within inches of Junie’s, “Either you tell me now or I make you tell me later.”
Junie stuck out his jaw in defiance as if he were unbreakable and had no idea how much pleasure Aiden would take in breaking him.
He clamped his hand over the Junie’s stubborn mouth and stomped on his knee so hard that the crunching sound resembled that of his shorter partner being run over twice by their Honda.
Junie howled into Aiden’s hand and tears spilled down his reddening face.
Aiden smiled, “Later it is then.”