Lisa Renee Jones
It’s Sunday night, and like many people, that means catching up on dirty laundry. Unlike most people, however, my list rarely includes jeans, shirts, and socks, though some might say it probably should. And it would if my list wasn’t consumed by blood, bodies, and random crime scene nastiness. Tonight, that list includes Kane Mendez, my ex-lover, who swears he’s clean when we both know he’s dirty—as in the-head-of-the-Mendez-cartel dirty. A complicated piece of the puzzle that is my life. Kane runs a powerful legit business as well, I’m an FBI profiler, and at one point he and I have killed and hidden a body together, or rather in some combination of “together.” I did the killing. He did the hiding.
Even more complicated is the fact that despite that secret, I’m presently standing in his garage pointing a gun at him, while the patriarch of the Romano family, who doesn’t exactly get invited to the Mendez family outings, is tied to a chair and gagged several feet away. Of course, he’s not the man we in law enforcement believe to be the patriarch, but Kane would know. And now I know, which is a weapon Kane has handed me, and not by accident. Kane does nothing by accident.
I give this newly discovered patriarch a quick once-over, confirming that he’s the same sunbaked old man in jeans and a T-shirt, gray hair braided down his back, I remember cornering me at the tattoo shop in the city. He’d given me a lead I’d like to know more about, which means I need him alive, thus it’s one of the reasons I confirm he’s not dead, which isn’t hard, since he’s presently fast-blinking at me. That’s enough for me to know he’s not feeling really warm and fuzzy right now, and also enough for me to dismiss him, at least for the moment, and for the obvious reason: he’s tied up and Kane is not.
I eye Kane, who is now two feet away and between me and the door, my gaze dropping to the silver cuff dangling from his wrist where I’d latched it the minute he opened the door. I part my lips to command him to cuff his second wrist, but in my mind, I play out exactly how that scene might be enacted:
I’d give him the same once-over I’d given the old man, as I do now, taking in his casual wear that’s replaced his business suit: his black jeans and snug black T-shirt that reads MENDEZ ENTERPRISES, which we both know translates to Mendez cartel, and that would piss me off. I’d lift my gaze, look right into those dark-brown eyes, and issue my command. “Finish cuffing yourself.”
He’d say, “I’m not going to do that.”
I’d then say, “I won’t kill you, Kane, but I will make you bleed, and at least two of the three of us will enjoy it. Cuff your wrist.”
“No,” he’d say, offering me nothing more as an explanation because that’s Kane. A man of few words because he means every damn one he speaks. But then he’d ask, “Would you like to have a private conversation in the kitchen?”
And I’d consider shooting him, but then I’d remember what my mother, of all people, had once told me when she was speaking of Hollywood: “When you are swimming with sharks,” she’d said, “and one of them wants you alive, you feed that shark and defang the others.” And so I would say, “Yes, Kane. I would like to have a private conversation in the kitchen.” And if it went down like that, Old Man Romano would know the dynamics of our push-and-pull, right-and-wrong connection that I won’t call a relationship, which he would most certainly exploit. And I can’t let that happen, especially since, as Kane’s enemy, he should have long ago been considered in my attack.
And so my gaze collides with Kane’s, and the arch of his brow dares to challenge me to be stupid enough to act on the fantasy scene in my head, while the glint in his eyes says he knows exactly what I’ve been thinking. He does. He knows me too well. He understands me in a way no criminal should understand a law enforcement officer. And I usually like it, which really fucking pisses me off, but this moment isn’t about my anger issues with Kane. It’s about what my gut says Romano should be allowed to see and hear, which is not division between Kane and me.
And thus, I act out another scene.
I holster my weapon and remove the key to the cuff, dangling it in the air. “You were right,” I say. “Sadly, now isn’t the time for these types of games.” I walk to him and lift his hand, removing the cuff before returning them both to my pocket with the key.
Kane smartly doesn’t push his luck and touch me but instead says exactly what he said in my fantasy scene. “Would you like to have a private conversation in the kitchen?”
So I say what I said in my fantasy scene. “Yes, Kane. I would like to have a private conversation in the kitchen.” I sound sticky-sweet and sarcastic, but I figure that isn’t really a misstep. Ask around and you’ll know. I’m not exactly the agreeable type, even if I like you. Okay. Accept you. I don’t really like people. Any of them. Which is perhaps the answer to why I’m so comfortable with dead bodies.
I don’t wait for him to motion me forward; I’m already walking toward the kitchen, which is another one of those push-and-pull things between Kane and me that I make obvious. I’m not in his control, but I dare to give him my back, actions that tell Romano the story I want him to believe: I trust Kane. I’m intimate with Kane, but he doesn’t own me. Lies. I don’t like lies, but they can sometimes keep you alive and catch the bigger liars, the perps. That I have fucked one of the two perps at my back right now too many times to count and enjoyed every moment . . . well, at least I know what makes him tick: me. I do. I’m his weakness, but he’s not mine. I’m my own weakness. I let a man who is not only off-limits but should be my target get to me, and that’s a problem I need to fix.
We enter the kitchen, dark wood beneath my feet with lighter shades, even a hint of blue, streaked here and there, but it’s still dark. Everything about Kane is dark, which is exactly one of about ten reasons I am certain I could list to put space between myself and him, now and always. But my intent to place myself at the end of the heavy wooden island, my gun on the surface of the navy-blue marble countertop, ready to aim, falls as lame as my denial that I understand Kane, because I am like Kane in too many ways for comfort. The door shuts almost the moment I’ve passed through it, and Kane is on my heels.
I whirl around to face him. “Consider this official business. I have two dead bodies sitting with their heads in their laps, Kane. Romano’s people, and now you have him in your garage.”
“Exactly why he’s in my garage, Agent Love,” he says, as if that should absolutely make it all right. “He followed you. That was a threat, and I wasn’t going to give him time to act on those murders and go after you.”
My eyes go wide. “Did you kill his men, behead his men, because he followed me?”
“No,” he says without so much as a blink. “But I should have. Our women are off-limits. Always.”
“I’m not your woman, Kane. Not for two years. And I thought you didn’t chop off heads like your father?”
“Beautiful, I can still smell you on my skin. Taste you on my lips if I try hard enough.”
“I fucked you, Kane. You owed me that after showing up on the beach where it happened. But it was just a fuck and an escape. If that makes me yours, then I’d say Samantha, my brother’s woman who you fucked, is yours and his, too.” His eyes glint with anger, and I seize it, pushing him for an admission of guilt, repeating, “And I thought you didn’t chop off heads like your father?”
“I didn’t kill Romano’s people or order them killed,” he bites out, “and I wouldn’t be surprised if Romano did it himself.”
“Why would he do it himself?” I ask, aware that he’s avoided the entire topic of chopping off heads.
“To turn the attention on to me. And it worked,” he says.
“And his motivation?” I ask. “Outside of the everyday conflict between two patriarchs?”
“There’s the question,” he says, ignoring my inference that he is the old man’s equal when he claims it’s his uncle. “Is it to distract everyone, us included, from something else? Or is it to try to tie my hands, weaken me before a blow?”
It could be either or both, I think, because he’s right. The attention is on him. My brother, the police chief, is breathing down his neck and no doubt rallying my father, the mayor, behind him. Rich, my other ex and fellow FBI agent, who was already in a damn cockfight with Kane, sees the ~X~ on the target that is my other ex. And the list goes on. But if any of them thinks that Kane’s hands are tied, they’re wrong, and so I circle back to what feels important right now, to a question asked and answered but I need answered again. “I waded through blood to examine those bodies, Kane,” I say. “They sat in chairs facing the TV, their heads in their laps.”
His eyes narrow. “What was playing on the TV?” he asks.
And there’s the contradiction that is Kane, the man who would kill for me but accepts what no one else in my life accepts: dead bodies don’t freak me out. The problem is that he understands this because they don’t freak him out. Which is exactly why the Yale graduate attorney and criminal businessman in him has analyzed the scene the way I did and asked the same question I would ask—did ask.
In other words—was there a message left for him or me, on or near that TV? And there was: a DVD that ties back to the case I was working the night I was raped. But even if I were at liberty to share that information, which I’m not, I don’t like that Kane Mendez gets that about me. So for right now, I go to my question that I still need answered. “Did you kill, or order the killing of, those people?”
“You’re dodging my question about what was on the TV.”
“Crime scene details of any type are confidential law enforcement information,” I say.
“You’ve already shared details,” he points out.
“And that’s the last time you’re getting lucky tonight. Back to my question—the one you seem to be dodging.”
“Your question has been asked and answered,” he says, repeating my thoughts, “but I’ll answer again. No. I did not kill them, nor did I order those people beheaded. You know me. I’d hit closer to his home. And you didn’t have to ask two times, let alone three. I don’t lie to you, Lilah.”
I know him. He’d hit closer to home.
In other words, he believes that no matter how many times he tells me that he’s not his father, I know he’s got his father in him. I set that bitter pill aside, not ready to swallow it, but because I’m apparently a masochist, I decide to choose another. “No lies?” I challenge. “The tattoos, Kane. I saw your face when I showed you the photo in the chopper of the victim’s tattoo. I know you know more than you’re telling me.”
“About the tattoos, Lilah ~fucking ~Love.” He steps closer to me, and I have that same urge to back up as I had in his office the other night. But this time, there isn’t an opposing urge to kiss him before I bite the fuck out of his tongue. The scent of blood from my crime scene still lingering in my nostrils, and the head of a crime family tied up one room over, tamps down at least some of my urges. “I told you,” he bites out, “to leave them the fuck alone.”
“That doesn’t work for me anymore,” I say. “The tattoo artist—”
“You think that I haven’t been to every tattoo parlor in the area and beyond, Lilah? Do you really think that I don’t relive seeing that man on top of you and need vengeance for you?”
“And yet you were silent for two years,” I say. “You didn’t find answers. That’s too long. That artist—”
“Says he’s religious and the Virgin Mary inspires him, thus the tattoos,” he says. “I spoke to him personally, in depth. I have that parlor being watched. I have him being watched. It’s time for you to leave now.”
“Leave? You have a man tied up in your garage who you think killed your father. I’m not leaving while you kill him.”
“Despite the fact that the world would be a better place without that bastard, I have an alliance with him, a truce that invokes peace in my territory that I intend to keep in place. I won’t kill him unless he leaves me no other option.”
“That’s how you treat people who you have truces with?”
“He killed my father and he followed you, Lilah, which, I repeat, was a threat. You bet the fuck that’s how I treat him.”
“You think he killed your father, and I don’t think him following me was a threat. He gave me a clue that led me someplace that I don’t quite understand. But there’s an answer there. I need to talk to him.”
“What clue? What answer and what question?”
“I’ll talk to him,” I insist.
“Is that how you want to play this? You want to be complicit in his kidnapping and whatever comes next?”
“Now you’re protecting my honor? I just made that man think that I came over here to play a sex game with you.”
“Because it was the right decision. No matter who or what we are in private, to that man you’re my woman, and if he touches you, he dies. That’s the message you needed to send.”
“No. What I needed to do was arrest you both.”
“On what charges, Lilah?”
“Kidnapping for you,” I say.
“He wouldn’t press charges. There’s no crime here. Walk away.”
Now I step back, my badge the invisible line between us. “If he ends up dead, I will arrest you. Do you understand? I’ll have to.”
“I told you. I won’t kill him unless I have to.”
“Spoken like the true patriarch of the Mendez cartel.”
“I am who I have to be for reasons I hope you never have to understand. And as for arresting me, everything we’re saying is being recorded, Agent Love.”
“Now you’re threatening me?”
“I’m still protecting you,” he says. “I’m setting you free. Now you don’t have to question your decision to walk away. I made it for you.”
“Fuck you, Kane.”
“Later, Lilah. What did the old man tell you?”
“I’ll talk to him myself. You’re recording me. I have nothing else to lose by staying.”
“You’re leaving, and when you wake up tomorrow morning, remember two things: you were never here, and I did what I had to do to protect you.”
The way he says those words, cold and calculated, sends a chill down my spine. “What does that mean, Kane?”
“You’re going to leave now, Lilah.”
Those words are the proverbial slammed door. He’s shut me out. I see it. I feel it, and since I’m the only person on this planet who has ever influenced him, that’s dangerous for everyone he intends to punish. “On one condition,” I barter.
“Sorry, beautiful. As much as I enjoy the challenge of your conditions, not this time.” His hand comes down on mine on the counter. I pull back, but not before I feel the pinprick, which might be nothing, except that this is Kane, and just as he says nothing without purpose, his actions follow the same rules.
“Holy fuck,” I hiss as the room starts to spin. “What did you just do to me?”
“Gave you the gift of deniability.”
I sway and he catches me, and my fingers close around his shirt, anger surviving the haze overwhelming me. “I’m going to . . . Fuck you, Kane.” The stupidity of how those words have come together is the last thing I remember before everything goes dark.
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