Kept, Page 21Maya Banks
unhinge him as it did now. His knees began to shake so badly he could barely remain upright as he stumbled through the empty living room and into the equally empty bedroom.
His gaze immediately found the violin he’d bought her, nestled in the open case lying in the middle of her bed. When he went to her closet, he frowned upon seeing it still full of clothes. Fear gripped him. Had she meant to come back after all? Had something prevented her from returning?
As he flipped through the items, some still with the store tags unremoved, recognition hit him as did the jagged slash of pain that flayed open his chest. She had left. She just hadn’t taken a single thing he’d given her or bought for her. The only items of clothing missing were the inexpensive, threadbare shirts and jeans that had belonged to her before she met him. She’d made it so he no longer existed, had no part in her life, just as he’d done to her.
He closed his eyes and walked out of the bedroom before he fell completely apart. Grief and regret consumed him as he walked into the kitchen and saw that her mother’s dishes were gone but everything else had been left neatly stored in the cabinets. Even the food he’d made sure was stocked was exactly as it had been left by him.
Then his gaze fell on the set of keys lying in the middle of the counter and he made a grab for them, counting them. He curled his fingers around them until the hard metal cut into his palms. Not a single key was missing from the set he’d left with her. She’d left and he had no fucking idea where she’d gone, if she was okay, if she was hurt, in pain, if she was even alive.
The city was huge and she could be anywhere—if she was even still in the city. She could be anywhere in the goddamn country for all he knew.
He hurled the keys against the wall and turned and stalked from the apartment, slamming the door with enough force to shatter the sturdy wood. Her school. What about her classes? Her violin was here, so what was she using to play?
He ran back to his car and drove like a crazed lunatic, swerving through traffic, running red lights and narrowly avoiding pedestrians. He didn’t let up on the accelerator until he came to a skidding halt outside Hayley’s school.
After scaring one of the meek, pimple-faced paper pushers out of his mind, Silas managed to discover that Hayley had dropped all her classes just two weeks before the end of the term, resulting in the revocation of her scholarship. Silas left the terrified young man before the cops arrived to haul his surly ass to jail and returned to his car, where he buried his head against the steering wheel and closed his eyes.
Tears burned the corners of his eyes as he realized the extent of the damage he’d done to his beautiful, darling girl. He’d ruined her life by trying to save it. What a hell of a trade-off. She’d lost her scholarship, her dream, had broken her promise to her father all because the man she loved was a raging asshole who deserved to be shot in the fucking head after his nuts were cut off and shoved down his throat.
She was the most talented young woman he’d ever had the pleasure of knowing, along with the honor of having her gift bestowed on him each time she played for him. No matter how often or what hour he asked her to play for him, she always willingly complied and transported him to another place where there were no Vanuccis, no Luconis and no threat to the people he called family. She brought him the one thing he’d never known in his entire life until he met her. Peace. And he’d repaid her by ripping her to shreds and taking everything from her. Her talent, her hopes, her dreams, her entire life.
Forgive me, beautiful girl. My princess. I love you so goddamn much it hurts. I’m bleeding without you. I can’t live without you and I can’t bear to ever have you hurt or killed because of me and the man I am, the life I lead.
He had to find her. He wouldn’t sleep, wouldn’t eat until he knew she was safe. He would find her. And then what? He’d taken her apart as ruthlessly as a man had ever savaged a woman. If nothing else, he’d find out where she was and he’d put a dozen men on her if that’s what it took. He’d put surveillance cameras to catch every sight line possible so that no threat would go undiscovered. If he couldn’t be with her, then he’d damn sure protect her even if from a distance.
He drove toward Impulse, only one thing on his mind. He’d use their extensive database and hack into anything that would aid him in his search for Hayley. If he was lucky, she was still in the city and he’d be able to track her through utility companies, apartment rentals, hotel rentals, telephone, whatever he could avail himself of. He wouldn’t stop until he found her. Nothing else mattered until he could be assured of her safety.
When he rolled in to Impulse and hurried up to the office, he was relieved to discover that Drake had already been in and, not knowing when Silas would make it in, had left to return to Evangeline. The only two currently in, finalizing plans for their first offensive move against the Vanuccis, were Maddox and Justice.
Silas went straight to his desk, muttering to the others that he was following up an important lead. He just didn’t specify what lead or that it was far more important than the fucking Vanuccis.
An hour into poring over utility records, apartment rentals and hotel records, he still hadn’t found a goddamn thing, to his never-ending frustration. His concentration was broken when his burner phone rang and he swore, knowing he couldn’t ignore Ghost’s call.
“What you got?” Silas demanded shortly.
“I have it all,” Ghost said just as shortly. “I’ll take photos and send them to your phone. Could take me a bit because these files are seriously thick. Judging by some of this shit I’ve found, a lot of it came directly from a leak at the cop shop. Confidential police business stamps on some of it. Fuckers are in bed tight with the cops, which is very bad news for us if we carry out our strike against them.”
Silas was already motioning to Maddox and Justice as he simultaneously fired off a text to Drake on his other phone.
“Forget taking photos. I want all of it. We may need it to cover our asses. Meet me at Impulse as soon as you can get here.”
“I can’t walk out of here with an armful of the Vanuccis’ private files. Use your head, man. I’ll be no good to you dead.”
“I want you and your two guys out of there permanently,” Silas said in a grave tone. “Shit’s about to start going down and I want to make damn sure you don’t go down with those fuckers. Pull your two guys immediately and bring everything you’ve got directly to me.”
“You sure?” Ghost asked skeptically.
“I’m positive. Now move!”
“I’m on my way as soon as I let my guys on the inside know.” There was a moment of silence and the sound of papers rustling through the phone. “Whoa, wait, Silas? You still there?”
“You still got me,” Silas said impatiently.
“There’s an open file on the desk. Looks like Vanucci’s newest reading material. Think she might be one of yours. Dark-haired woman, looks to be in her early twenties, named Hayley Winthrop? There’s an address on the front as well. I’d say they’ve already chosen their next hit.”
Silas froze to the very core. His heart was screaming in denial. Not Hayley. God, not Hayley. Don’t let him be too late to save her. If only he hadn’t pushed her away, she’d still be with him and not out there somewhere he couldn’t protect her with the Vanuccis breathing down her neck.
“Give me the address right now,” Silas said hoarsely. “Then grab the files and get the fuck out of there now! Your departure just got moved up to yesterday. I can’t be responsible for what happens to you or your guys if you stick around for longer than five more minutes.”
He was already standing and steadily strapping on his entire arsenal as Ghost relayed the address, confirming Silas’s worst fear. It wasn’t her previous address but one unknown to Silas, which meant that the Vanuccis had already tagged her while Silas had been sitting with his thumb up his ass scouring countless records looking for any clue as to her whereabouts.
Silas tossed the phone down and turned to run from
the office, when a strong hand wrapped around his arm.
Baring his teeth, Silas snarled, “Let. Go. Now.”
“I’ve got some info you need to hear,” Maddox said, refusing to let Silas go.
“It can fucking wait!”
“No, it can’t,” Maddox said hoarsely. “It’s about Hayley.”
Silas froze. Oh God. Don’t let them have already gotten to her. He stared at Maddox with his heart in his throat.
“Make it quick,” he said savagely. “She’s been missing for fucking days and I only just figured out where she is because Ghost found a file on her open on Vanucci’s desk. They’re already planning their next hit. Her!”
“Jesus,” Maddox whispered. “I’ll tell you on the way. Let’s go. Justice, you’re with us.”
“You packing?” Silas asked grimly.
Maddox sent him a baleful look. “Hell yeah!”
Thirty seconds later, they jumped in Silas’s car and Silas tore out of the parking lot as Maddox input the address into the GPS unit.
“What about Hayley?” Silas demanded.
“Fuck,” Maddox said, closing his eyes. “Zander called me from the hospital pissed as hell because before he could only remember bits and pieces of the shooting. It happened so fast. But he remembered it all in exacting detail a few hours ago. We assumed that we were the targets of the shooting, and it appeared that way because Hayley got hit when she tried to run up to Zander and push him out of the way. But Zander says that’s not what happened.”
“What did, then?” Silas shouted. “Spill it already. We don’t have all goddamn day!”
“Zander said that Hayley saw the guys pull up. We didn’t. But he saw her face and when he turned around he also saw the guys and they didn’t immediately shoot. They hesitated. It wasn’t until Hayley gave them a clear shot by moving from behind Zander and running to push him out of the way that they opened fire. Zander was able to get in front of her, mostly, and took most of the damage except for the ricochet that hit Hayley. She was the target, not us, which means they tagged her a long time ago and had been waiting for an opportunity.”
Silas felt the blood leave his face, and he started sweating from head to toe. He’d been so fucking arrogant from the very start. So certain he could keep Hayley off the radar and that no one would know he was involved with her. When all along those sons of bitches had known. He was extremely fortunate that Hayley hadn’t already been killed, and if he didn’t get to her in time, that was exactly what was going to happen to her.
“Rein it in, brother,” Justice said quietly. “You have to keep a cool head or you’re no good to her. We go in and do this the right way and no one gets killed. You with me?”
Silas gave a clipped nod, but his pulse was thundering so loudly in his ears that he had no clue what Justice had said.
“Hartley’s with Evangeline, and Drake will meet us there. Jax is on his way as well. Let’s go get your girl, Silas. And this time, try to keep her, okay?” Maddox said in a tight voice.
Hayley forced herself out of bed after yet another sleepless night and sat with her legs over the edge, her arms wrapped tightly around her waist. She lifted her head and grimly surveyed the interior of the shabby apartment she’d rented. She couldn’t remain here another night. She’d chosen it because she could pay by the week and in the daylight it hadn’t looked too bad. But it was in a crime-infested slum that was overrun with gangbangers and drug dealers.
Just last night, she’d sat huddled in her apartment in the corner after hearing shots beneath her window and when she’d finally looked out, she’s witnessed in startling clarity a drug deal going down.
After that she’d taken the Colt her father had given her before she left for the city, the same gun he’d spent many a day teaching her to shoot from the time she was a little girl, and she’d placed it, loaded, underneath her pillow, within easy reaching distance. He was determined his baby girl would always know how to defend herself, but until now she hadn’t felt she needed it.
She let out a harsh-sounding laugh. Hadn’t needed it? It damn sure would have come in handy the night she’d been mugged and especially the night of the recital and Zander’s shooting. If she’d had it then she could have given those bastards a dose of their own medicine and they would have never seen it coming.
Never again would she be without it at all times. She’d kept it, yes, but she’d always kept it safely stored. Now, however, she didn’t leave her apartment without it in her purse and she didn’t move an inch inside her apartment without the reassuring metal pressed to her palm.
She pushed herself out of bed, knowing it was extremely late, but it had been past dawn before things had settled enough for her to drift into an uneasy sleep. She dreaded even leaving the relative security of her apartment, but she refused to become a prisoner here. She was packing her stuff today and leaving. She didn’t know her final destination. Yet. But by the time she got everything ready, she’d at least have an idea.
Easing the gun from beneath her pillow, she secured it in her purse and then, so eager to get out of there and put the whole ordeal behind her, she didn’t even bother taking a shower. She hurriedly packed her meager belongings and then splashed cold water on her face, brushed her teeth and pulled her hair back into a ponytail.
She carefully pulled back the dingy curtains to peek out her window, sighing sadly as she saw the faint outline of the city in the distance. Despite the grief and despair so heavy in her heart, she would miss the city with all the flash and flurry that had swallowed her up whole from the very first day she’d stepped into it.
To a small-town country girl like her, Manhattan had seemed so full of glitz and glamour, so sophisticated when she was anything but. She’d made the adjustment in no time at all thanks to the kindness of the elderly patrons of the school who’d asked her to apartment-sit for them while they toured Europe. It had been her first real taste of independence, and she’d flourished and even enjoyed her new life.
Now it was time to pick up the pieces and move on and become the independent, self-sufficient woman her father had raised her to be. She just wished she knew where to begin or how to get over the one man she knew she’d never stop loving.
Finished with her packing and fully dressed and ready to face her future, a future without the man who’d given her such hope, she secured her purse over her shoulder and went to the door, placing her ear to the aged wood. When she heard a faint scuffle and the routine shouting her neighbors indulged in on a daily basis, she stepped back and decided to wait a few minutes before she headed out the door. The last thing she wanted was to walk right into the middle of a domestic dispute.
After what seemed an interminable wait, the yelling settled into complete silence. She stood a few more moments, making sure they’d gone back into their apartment, and then went to crack her door to have a look before she dragged her heavy bag down the stairs and walked to the nearest subway station. Even taxis didn’t dare come into this neighborhood. She had yet to see a single one in the days since she’d moved in here.
She had her hand on the handle when the door suddenly exploded inward, knocking her back several feet, where she landed painfully on the floor. She let out a scream as a huge man loomed over her, and as soon as she opened her mouth to scream again he lashed out and backhanded her so hard she fell over, hitting the floor with the other side of her ringing head.
Two men came rushing in and grabbed her as she yelled hoarsely, refusing to give in to their demands for her silence. The next moments came in a confusing blur as everything she’d been taught as a little girl by her overprotective single father came rushing back. Things she had been too shocked and frightened to use the night she was rescued by Silas.
This time she wasn’t terrified and unable to defend herself. She was pissed. She’d had enough of being bullied, knocked around and shit on by men she didn’t trust and men she had trusted. She might very well be signing her own death warr
ant by not meekly abiding by their demands, but at this point, bring it on. She wasn’t going anywhere without a fight.
She kicked, punched, clawed and continued to scream until a large fist slammed into her cheekbone, sending her sprawling back to the floor. Dazed and confused for a moment, she heard a harsh voice whisper, “Shut the bitch up,” before that same hand covered her mouth.
Not willing to just give up and accept her fate, Hayley resumed her fight. Her nails dug into flesh as a fist connected with her ribs, robbing her completely of breath. Shit! Those were the same ribs cracked in her mugging, and by the pain scorching through her midsection, she’d bet every penny of her bank account he’d just cracked them again.
Her free hand fumbled for the cheap lamp beside the couch and she brought it down on whoever, and whatever, she could reach. A hand tightened in her hair and slammed her head against the floor, leaving her vision blurry. She blinked rapidly, trying to bring her attackers into focus, but it was nearly impossible with the way he held her to the floor, using all his weight to press down on her.
She felt cool air against her chest and knew her shirt had been ripped open. The man who was currently straddling her had blood trickling from his temple and her nail marks on his cheek. “Our father doesn’t like a lot of fight in his women. We’ll have to take care of that,” he snarled as he ripped the button from her jeans.
Oh hell no. She wasn’t letting this pencil-dick asshole rape her. She’d gladly choose death before allowing him to violate her and rob her of what little dignity she had left.
Knowing what they planned, she redoubled her efforts to escape. The second man, who greatly resembled the man straddling her, and whom she assumed was his brother, limped over to help subdue her as her flailing legs kicked over the coffee table and sent the glass top shattering to the floor. From a distance, she heard banging and her neighbor’s voice yelling, “Keep it down over there or I’m calling the cops!”
Ironic since he made every bit as much noise on a routine basis fighting with his old lady.
Both of her attackers froze and exchanged quick glances, and then the man atop her pulled a gun from nowhere and pressed it to her forehead. “I’ve had enough out of you, bitch. Move again and I’ll blow your brains out here and now. My father just wants to talk to you, and I’m the man who’s going to deliver you to him so he can see that I’m perfectly capable of running the family business. Now, are you going to be a good girl and come with us or does this have to get messy?”
Hayley knew they were lying. There was no “talk” to have, but she also knew that he was dead serious about the gun at her head. She would give them what they wanted until she could blow their fucking brains out, or die trying.
The younger of the two brothers dragged her to her feet while the older one kept his weapon trained on her. The pain screaming through her ribs made it hard to breathe and her vision was still blurry from the repeated blows to her head, but adrenaline was keeping the worst agony from her injuries at bay.
They made their way out her door and down the hallway, not passing another soul. As Hayley stumbled down the stairs, her purse, which she’d somehow held on to, banged against her hip and reminded her she wasn’t down and out yet. She quickly glanced at the piece of shit who’d threatened her with a pistol through one rapidly swelling eye and noticed he no longer held his gun in plain view. Must not have wanted to alarm anyone in case any of her neighbors actually gave a shit. The idiot obviously wasn’t familiar with this particular section of town.
She was led to the trash-strewn back alley behind the building where she’d watched drug deals happen from her window. There was a black town car waiting.
Never let them take you to a second location.
The instructor of the self-defense courses she’d taken as a teen had drummed it into all his students’ heads. If she got into that car, she knew she was dead. If she put up a fight, she’d probably still be dead. Either way, she died, but fighting at least gave her a chance that, once inside the car, would disappear with every minute they got closer to wherever they were taking her.
As her kidnappers carried on a low-voiced conversation on either side of her, she slowly slid her hand into her purse and wrapped her fingers around hard steel. Her last remaining link to her father. And if this didn’t work, she knew she’d be seeing him soon.
Hayley faked a stumble, putting a few feet of space between them. The men spun around, both reaching inside their jackets for their weapons. As her back slammed against a nearby Dumpster, she pulled out her father’s Colt. Everything she’d learned as a young girl at her father’s side on a hilltop in Tennessee came back as she sighted down the barrel, exhaled and squeezed the trigger.
As the navigation guided them deeper into one of the seedier areas in the underbelly of the city, Silas felt Maddox’s glare boring into him.
“Just say what’s on your mind,” Silas hissed impatiently.
“What the hell is Hayley doing in this neighborhood, Silas? You said you set her up with another place. This shit is what you meant? What the fuck is wrong with you?”
“Goddamn it! You know me better than that. I never intended her to be living like this.” He couldn’t keep the sharp pain or the overwhelming fear out of his voice, despite his best efforts. “I set her up in a nice place not far from her school, but she hasn’t been back home or to school in days. I . . .” He closed his eyes, saying the last in a whisper. “I lost her. I spent all fucking morning trying to track her down. Then Ghost’s call came and I can only pray to God I make it in time.”
Justice made a sound of disgust and Maddox just looked pissed as hell.
“It never occurred to you to ask for help? Like when she first went missing? She’s not just yours, Silas. She’s ours too. Just like Evangeline is ours. We’re your fucking brothers.”
“This shit isn’t right,” Justice bit out, clearly in agreement with Maddox’s furious statement. “Yeah, Hatch fucked us over. Sold out to the goddamn cops. But if we can no longer trust one another, we may as well hand the city over to Vanucci because we’ll all be feeding the fish in the Hudson and then where will Hayley, Evangeline and Gia be?”
Silas knew they both spoke the truth, but he couldn’t worry about them or the issue of trust now. Not when his entire world was hanging by a thread. Later, when he was certain of Hayley’s safety, he’d work on repairing what Hatcher had destroyed.
The GPS informed them their destination was approaching on the right and as Silas pulled to the curb, gunshots filled the air. Diving out of the still-running car, all three men pulled their own weapons and raced toward the sound.
Not Hayley. Don’t let it be her. I can’t be too late.
Feet sliding, he flew into the alley, then shock stopped him in his tracks and for a split second he was rendered immobile by the gruesome sight that greeted him. Beside him, he heard Maddox whisper, “Sweet Jesus.”