May, eight years ago
There’s blood on my hands, blood between my toes, blood speckled in my hair. It’s splashed across my chest, and to my horror, I can taste a few droplets on my lips.
There’s far too much of it staining the kitchen’s polished floors. No one can survive that much blood loss, not even the monster at my feet.
My entire body shakes, adrenaline still pumping through my veins. I drop the broken bottle, the glass shattering as it hits the ground, and fall to my knees.
Blood soaking into my jeans.
I stare at my tormentor. His glassy eyes have lost their focus, and his skin its color. If I were a braver person, I would’ve placed my ear to his chest to just make sure that his cold, blackened heart had stilled. I can’t bear to touch him, even now. Even if he can no longer hurt me.
He’s gone. He’s finally gone.
A shuddering sob pushes its way out of me. For the first time in what seems like an eternity I can breathe. I sob again. God it feels good. This time tears follow.
I’m not supposed to feel relief. I know that. I know people are supposed to mourn the loss of life. But I can’t. Not him, anyway. Maybe that makes me evil. All I know is that tonight, I actually faced my fear and I survived it.
He’s dead. He can’t hurt me anymore. He’s dead.
It takes only a few more seconds for that realization to hit me.
Oh, God. He’s dead.
My hands begin to shake. There’s a body and blood, so much blood. I’m drenched in it. It speckles my homework, and one fat droplet obscures Lincoln’s face on my history textbook.
A harsh shiver courses through my body.
I stare down at my hands, feeling like Lady Macbeth. Out damned spot! I dash to the kitchen sink, leaving a trail of bloody footprints in my wake. Oh, God, I need to get his blood off of me now.
I rinse my hands furiously. It stains my cuticles and embeds itself beneath my fingernails. I can’t get it out, but it doesn’t matter because I notice the red liquid coats my arms. So I scrub those. But then it’s on my shirt, and I can see it congealing in my hair.
I whimper as I do so. It doesn’t matter. It’s not coming out.
I lean over the granite countertop and assess the pink mixture of blood and water that stains it, the floor, and the sink.
Can’t hide from this.
Reluctantly, my eyes slide to the body. An illogical part of me expects my stepfather to sit back up and attack me. When he doesn’t do just that, I begin to think again.
What … do I do now? Call the police? The justice system protects kids. I’ll be okay, they’ll just call me in for questioning.
But will they protect me? It’s not like I killed just anyone. I killed one of the wealthiest, most untouchable men alive. It doesn’t matter that it was self-defense. Even in death, men like him get away with the unthinkable all the time.
And I’d have to talk about it—all of it.
Nausea rolls through me.
But I have no choice, I have to turn myself in—unless …
The monster bleeding out in our kitchen knew a man who knew a man. Someone who could clean up a messy situation. I only had to sell a bit of my soul to speak to him.
No cops, no questions, no foster care or jail.
You know what? He can have whatever’s left of my soul. All I want is out.
I dash to the junk drawer, my trembling hands having trouble opening it. Once I do, it’s short work grabbing the business card and reading over the peculiar contact information. There’s a single sentence written on it; all I have to do is recite it out loud.
Fear washes through me. If I do this, there’s no going back.
My gaze sweeps over the kitchen. It’s already too late to go back.
I squeeze the card in my hand. Taking a deep breath, I do as the business card instructs.
“‘Bargainer, I would like to make a deal.’”
A file folder drops to the desk in front of me. “You’ve got mail, bitch.”
I lower my mug of steaming coffee from my mouth, my eyes flicking up from my laptop.
Temperance “Temper” Darling—swear to God that’s her name—my business partner and best friend, stands on the other side of my desk, a coy smile on her face.
Temper drops into the seat across from me.
I kick my ankles off my desk, reaching across it to drag the file closer to me.
She nods to the folder. “This one’s easy money, girl.”
They’re all easy money, and she knows that.
Her eyes drift around my cupboard-sized office, the twin of hers.
“How much is the client offering?” I ask, propping my feet up once more on the edge of my desk.
“Twenty grand for a single meeting with the target—and she already knows when and where you’re to intercept the target.”
I whistle. Easy money indeed.
“Rendezvous time with the target?” I ask.
“Eight p.m. tonight at Flamencos. It’s a fancy-ass restaurant, FYI, so—” her gaze drops to my scuffed up boots, “you can’t wear that.”
I roll my eyes.
“Oh, and he’ll be there with friends.”
And here I was looking forward to getting home relatively early.
“Do you know what the client wants?” I ask.
“The client believes her uncle, our target, is abusing his guardianship of his mother, her grandmother. The two are going to court over the issue; she wants to save some legal bills and get a confession straight from the horse’s mouth.”