Page 48

“What’s this?” I ask. I’m not only thrown by the reception of the team, but by the items he’s holding outstretched in his hands.

“Everything, Greyson. Ownership to the Underground. Something that belonged to your mother. And this.”

I’m confused as he hands me an envelope, but then my mind is worth shit now. I’m worth shit. I feel like roadkill. I haven’t eaten in forty hours. Haven’t slept. Haven’t taken a bath.

“I didn’t finish the list, Eric,” I feel obligated to specify.

“Yes you did. By the time your father died, every last name on the list was accounted and paid for.”

“Not Melanie . . .”

“Her friend brought in her payment for her.”

He pulls out the necklace from his pocket, and I almost unravel at the sight of the familiar jewels, sparkling like mad.

The diamonds glitter, and I touch the necklace she used to wear on her neck.

Memories assault me. Melanie asking what list would this be? Melanie wanting to go inside my steel room. Melanie cooking for me. Melanie Melanie Melanie. I want to see her eyes sparkling bright. I want to see her eyes open and LOOK THE FUCK AT ME LIKE SHE ALWAYS DOES! With life. Like I’m her god. Like I’m her guy.

Princess, do you realize what this means? I want to tell her as I take her necklace in my hands and stare at it while I feel poleaxed in the gut, chainsawed in my chest. You saved me, baby. You f**king saved me. I can find my mother now.

But there’s no joy in my heart, not even at this news. There will never be joy in my heart if those green eyes don’t f**king open and see me. Please just see me if only to tell me what a f**king ass**le she thinks I am. Tell me I’m the reason she’s like this right now.

“So this is it? This is where she is?” I ask Eric as I look down at the sealed envelope, my voice rough with the emotions I’m trying hard to keep concealed.

He nods toward that envelope. The one containing the information I’ve waited over a decade for. Things claw and knife at me as I grab the note and tear it open. I’ve waited thirteen years for this. Thirteen. I have done unspeakable things for this, for her. To find her. Try to protect her.

Pulling out the paper, I read the address written down in my father’s handwriting, and that’s when it hits me. Like a torpedo slamming into me, it hits me.

My mother is in a cemetery.

I stand there, absorbing it without swaying, without even a muscle in me twitching. I’m motionless, while at the same time, there’s a nuclear destruction within me. Here it is. The answer to why I could never find her.

My mother. Is dead.

The death certificate is dated several years ago. Around the time I left the Underground to look for her. She was on an island, a private island. That’s where she died. Natural causes, the autopsy reads. My mother died, alone, on some sort of secret island that will now belong to me.

My mother is dead.

My father is dead.

And my girlfriend is . . .

The thought of her in that hospital bed sends a fulminating, raging pain through me. The way I found her, unconscious, her skull banged, bleeding to death, her body small and pale and lifeless.

MY. FUCKING. GIRL.

Barely a pulse beating in her throat.

Pale and motionless on the ground when all I wanted was to lift her in my arms.

I stalk toward the bar and yell as I slam my fist into the wall.

♥ ♥ ♥

I WAKE UP to an eerie silence and dozens of bottles are scattered across the floor. This shithole can’t be my room. The f**king mess can’t be where I slept.

I groan as I push myself up and the pounding in my head rolls to expand across my entire skull. I blink and take in my surroundings while instinctively pulling out my gun from under my pillow. I c**k it as I stand and kick aside a fallen pillow. The place looks destroyed, like some motherfucker didn’t have the intention of anything in here surviving.

“You alive, man?”

I groan and tuck my gun back as I spot C.C. Apparently one thing survived, the one the motherfucker didn’t want to: me.

“You have anything else to break in here?” he asks me.

“So I did do this?”

So I destroyed my place. Great.

I’m so f**king proud of myself.

“Hell, it could be worse. Bro, you’re a f**king legend, the king of the Underground, rich as f**k . . .”

“My mother is dead. My mother is dead and my girl is . . .”

I can’t say it. My heart rips open at the thought of her. I put my head in my hands.

“I’m sorry, Z. I’m f**king sorry we didn’t reach her in time.”

“She was coming back to me, C.C. She was coming back to me even with this . . .” I spread my arms out and look around at the mess I look like—I finally look the part of the criminal I was born to be. “I may be revered in our own little dark world, but out there I’m shit. Out there there’s something very wrong with us, C.C. And a girl like her can do much, much better than me. And she was coming. Back. To me.”

He’s silent.

I start picking up my knives from where they lay scattered all over. “If I’m doing this, C.C., if the Underground is mine to deal with . . . things are going to change.”

“What do I do about Wyatt?”

“Jail him. Pin everything wrong there is with the Underground and my father on him. We start with a clean slate.” I look at him. “C.C., I want to be the man she wants. The man she needs. The man I could be.”

“Z, she may never wake up. She could stay like this for months until her family decides it’s time to turn off the artificial . . .”

I grab him by the shirt and warn, “Don’t f**king finish that sentence!”

C.C. quiets, and I start putting all my weapons aside.

“Grey, the Underground will f**king thrive with you. Your father was weighing it down. You can take it to another level. You can give our fighters more, our clients more.”

“I’ll take care of things. I’ll take care of things like I always do, but not now. Not now. I can’t now.” I start packing some stuff.

“Dude, where are you going to sleep?”

“For now, at the hospital.”

He signals to the box, my mother’s box, on my bed.

“Aren’t you going to open it before you leave?”

It’s a steel box, rather large. I stare at it for a long time, haunted by the sight of it. I rub the top and wish I could talk to her. I’m sorry I failed you. I’m so f**king sorry I failed you.

I failed proving to her that I could be good and tempered when I shot a man. I failed finding her in time. I became the thing she had been running away from for as long as I can remember. She died thinking I was a killer and probably never wanted to see her. She died thinking me a criminal just like the man she hated, my father. The reason I lost my mother is the same reason I lost the woman I loved. The Underground.

C.C. leaves, and I fist my hand around the key and eye the slot. The box is old, larger than a shoe box, made of steel.

“Fuck this.” I force myself to shove the key into the slot and crack it open. I peel open the lid, and it’s heavy, creaking. Then I stare inside. There’s a pendant with a diamond I remember her wearing. So simple. The scent of her lingers somehow. I pull out a set of pictures of me. Age fifteen? Check. Age eighteen? Check. Age twenty? Check. In all of them, I’m training with my knives or at a shooting range—unaware of the camera. Fuck me. What a way to say hello to your mother.

Next I find a bundle of letters tied in a white sash. Hand delivered, maybe. No addresses. Just her name on them. I open all three and immediately recognize my father’s handwriting.

Lana,

I’ve been told you’ve been uncooperative as of late. Let me assure you how cooperative I will personally be if you stop trying to leave the island . . .

J

Lana,

He’s doing well. How else would you expect a son of mine to do? He thrives under pressure and he’s thriving now. If you mean to ask me if he’s been asking about you? He has. I’ve assured him you’re all right. Don’t make me a liar.

I cannot guarantee I’ll let you see him and risk all the work I’ve done so far, but it’s in both his and your best interests that you get on my good side.

J

P.S. There’s a cook on the island for a reason. Eat.

Lana,

As you requested, it’s at the Waterfront. The deal was this for your cooperation; it will be gone in an instant if you ever defy me or my wishes again.

J

Motherfucker. Even with keeping her locked up, he still wanted her to accept her fate without quarrel? I’m gritting my teeth as I go to pull out the rest of the box’s contents.

And a set of keys falls out and to the ground. I’m about to bend down and grab them when I see, at the bottom of the box, another letter.

And this one’s addressed to me.

To my son, Greyson,

I remember you. Every day I wonder what you’re doing and how you’ve grown. I ask for pictures, and as you can see I’ve gotten quite a few. You’re as handsome as I imagined you’d grow up to be. I look at these, wishing all your inner strength will be able to stand living with a man as hard as your father. But I try pretending that you’re all right. I try remembering how strong you are, how resilient, and I tell myself, one day you’ll outgrow your father and then you’ll be unstoppable. You will make yourself to be exactly what you want.

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