After catching a couple hours of restless sleep, Kayne descended the stairs and found his mother grilling fish while Quinn stared ponderously at the chess board.
“Is Emmalina still asleep?”
While Shannyn seemed bent on ignoring him, Quinn responded, “Yeah. Haven’t heard a peep out of her.”
Kayne nodded and sat down at the table. “Go get the others. I need to talk to everyone.”
“Do I hear a please?” Quinn rolled his eyes and got to his feet.
After he’d gone upstairs, Kayne looked over at his mother. By the set of her shoulders, he could tell she was practically vibrating with anger. Well, fuck her. When had he ever asked anything from this family? From her? He’d happily gone into the business she’d wanted, become what she’d wanted. This time, he needed something. He needed Emmalina and their baby to be safe. So she could just build a bridge and get the fuck over it.
By the time Shannyn had taken up the fish, the rest of the family had filtered downstairs.
“So what’s up?” Jason asked.
“Before Emmalina gets up, I wanted to ask you all something. I don’t want anyone telling her what Mom or I do. She’s naïve and innocent. At best, finding out would distress her. At worst, she’d run away.”
“Oh, how sweet,” Shannyn said sarcastically. “You don’t want your girlfriend to find out she fucked a killer.”
“I’m going to tell her,” Kayne said, ignoring his mother’s bait. “But I want to wait until after the baby is born.” He could remember how anxious his mother and Jason had been when she’d been pregnant with the triplets. Being pregnant was dangerous. He couldn’t imagine that what Emmalina had gone through already was good for her or the baby; she didn’t need to add to it.
One by one, despite their qualms about keeping such a secret, everyone agreed. Except his mother.
“Can you leave us alone?” Kayne asked in a low voice. Perhaps if it was just the two of them, they could talk like reasonable people.
When they were alone, Kayne looked over at his mother. “Mom, I’m asking you as your son. That’s my baby that Emmalina is carrying. I know you don’t trust her, but this isn’t about that. I want my baby to be safe.”
Her face softened, just the tiniest bit. “Alright,” she agreed. “Just until the kid is born.”
Kayne sat down next to Emmalina. “What are you reading?”
She pulled her nose out of the notebook and turned a smile onto him. “Something your sister wrote. She’s very good.”
“Feel like being done for a while?” When she beamed and put the notebook down, he slid his arm around her and pulled her into his side. The contentment he felt from that simple act might’ve driven him to his knees if he’d been standing.
Ever since that day by the river, he’d just let go of his resistance to her. He’d been afraid that his feelings for Emmalina made him weak, but the only thing that had weakened him was his uncertainty. Now that he knew – now that he accepted her – he felt stronger than ever. A hundred times more motivated to keep her safe and protected.
Even more motivated to please her.
“The windows are so lovely,” Emmalina sighed happily.
Kayne smiled into her hair. “You can’t even see them from here.” Sure, he’d put in a few more small ones, but it was at the back of the house where he’d made a real change. With Jason, Baz, and Quinn’s help, he’d installed new floor to ceiling windows. Even a new light over Emmalina’s easel so she’d have all the lighting she could need for her art. The smile she’d given him when she’d seen the final product had made it more than worth it.
“Doesn’t matter.” She tilted her face up and kissed his jaw. “Has anyone ever told you that you’re sweet?”
He snorted. “No. Emphatically no. In fact, I should cut your tongue out just for saying it.” He grinned and leaned in to kiss her. “Maybe I’ll just nibble on it instead.” Her giggles were muffled by his mouth.
“Ugh.” Shannyn glared at them. “Does this look like your bedroom?”
Kayne sighed. He’d had a small – tiny, really – hope that his mother might lighten up on Emmalina. But no. She was still piss and arsenic.
Emmalina shrank into his side which just made Shannyn glare harder at them. “You know, I wonder if you’d look to him for protection if you knew what he really was.”
Kayne’s blood ran cold. No! She can’t tell her! He would lose Emmalina; he knew it for a fact. “Mom – “
“Do you know about the mob, little orphan? You know they pretty much run the town, don’t you? I run the mob. And my son?” Shannyn bared her teeth in a grim smile. “He’s a hired killer.”
Emmalina looked between them, eyes wide. “Kayne, she’s lying, isn’t she? You don’t kill people.”
Kayne’s glare was pure murder. He got up. “Get the fuck out of my sight, Mom, or so fucking help me, I’ll make you.”
Shannyn narrowed her gaze at him. “You wouldn’t.”
“Test me,” he hissed, his hands balled into fists.
They stared at each other for a long moment. For a second, he thought he saw something in her eyes. Something like regret. Then she went to the door and walked out.
Emmalina lumbered off of the couch and backed away from him. “Kayne, tell me what she said isn’t true.”
Kayne squeezed his eyes shut and tried to take a calming breath. Finally, he faced her. “It’s true. I’m a killer, Emmalina.”
She covered her mouth with both hands and looked like she was going to be sick. “You – oh my God.” She sank down on the couch, probably because her knees threatened to give out. “Do you kill good people? There have to be people out there trying to make the town better…have you killed any of them?”
He wanted to tell her no, but, honestly? He wasn’t sure. He did reconnaissance before he killed someone, learned their habits, but he didn’t exactly know every detail about them. He just followed the Oracle’s orders. “I don’t know,” he admitted quietly. “I follow orders.”
Tears trickled down her cheeks but she wiped them away. “Why, Kayne? Why would you do this? I thought you were a good man…”
“I’m not a good man,” he said harshly. No matter what good things she made him feel, there would always be darkness inside of him. An evilness had been born and nurtured in him; there was no denying that he liked what he did. That sometimes he used a knife on his targets, not because it was quiet but because it was more personal. No, he had no illusions about what kind of man he was.
“So if you had a choice…you’d still do this?”
“I don’t know,” he answered honestly. He couldn’t fathom a world in which he didn’t need to do this. “What I do…it’s to protect my family – to protect you. One day, I’ll succeed the Oracle and take over. With Mom’s people in the mob and my control of the killers, we can be truly safe.”
She looked at him through watery eyes. “Do you enjoy it?”
“No.” He was a good liar, and he made damn sure that word was the best lie he’d ever uttered. He’d been as honest with her as he could, but no power on this earth could compel him to tell her the truth. She should never know the depth of his darkness.
“It’s just something that has to be done. Your safety…it means more to me than anything, Emmalina.” He moved to sit next to her. “You are precious to me.”
Emmalina’s eyes searched his, and her face was unreadable. He had no idea if she was about to slap him or get up and run.
“I love you,” she said.
His breath punched out of him. He stared at her incredulously. “What?”
“If you say this is necessary – that it’s for our protection – I’ll believe you. I love you, Kayne.”
Kayne almost felt like crying. Never had he imagined this response from her. He pulled her into his arms. “I love you. I swear, I’ll always keep you and our baby safe.”
How had he ever gotten so lucky as to find her?