Part #1 of Underground Kings series by Aurora Rose Reynolds
“Autumn,” Link called, using my real name, snapping me out of my terrified huddle.
I peeked out from behind my hands as he crouched down in front of me. “Did you get him?”
He shook his head, putting out his hand for me to take. I shook my head no. I was safe; I didn’t want to move from that spot.
“Come on, Angel. He’s gone.”
I shook my head again.
“Nothing is going to happen to you. I promise you’re safe.”
I swallowed against the lump in my throat, squeezing my eyes closed. “Tessa?” I asked him. His eyes closed and his head dropped forward. “No,” I whispered, shaking my head. “No.”
“Sorry, Angel,” he said quietly.
“Not sure, but the cops are here. I need you to come out of there so you can talk to them,” he told me gently, holding out his hand again.
I nodded, reluctantly taking it. Even though I didn’t like Tessa, she didn’t deserve what had happened to her. None of the people in the room deserved what had happened to them.
“I should have tried to help her.”
“Nothing you could have done,” Link said, and my eyes went from to the floor to his. He shook his head, wrapped his beefy arm around my shoulders, and walked me over to a barstool.
I sat there until the cops came up a few minutes later and told me that they needed to talk to me at the station.
“Can she get some clothes on?” Link, who had given me the shirt off his back and hadn’t left my side, asked one of the detectives.
“Sure,” the guy mumbled.
I slid off the barstool and dazedly walked to the dressing room. When I walked in, all the girls were there huddled together and crying. I didn’t know what to say to them; most of them had been friends with Tessa. I felt horrible that they had lost their friend, but I was unsure if they would want me to express my condolences.
I walked to my locker and started to pull off my stockings when one of the girls came up to me, wrapping her arms around me. Shocked, I hugged her back, and more of the girls gathered around me. We all stood there silently for a few minutes. Most of the girls were crying while a couple mumbled about how everything would be okay. I wasn’t sure anything would ever be okay again; I’d just watched five people die and was lucky to still be alive.
“I have to go with the police,” I told the girls when it didn’t seem like they were going to let me go.
After a second, they all started breaking away from me one by one, giving me reassuring hugs. “Call me if you want to talk,” one of the girls, Elsa, said, handing me a business card with her personal information on it.
I looked at it for a long second before nodding. I had never really been friends with any of them. Maybe that needed to change.
I went to my locker, pulling off my clothes before slipping on a pair of jean shorts, a black tank top, an oversized, grey sweater, and a pair of black flip-flops. I grabbed my bag, shoved everything from my locker into it, and left the room without a backwards glance.
Link was waiting for me outside the dressing room door, his back against the wall, his head tilted back, looking at the ceiling. I’ve known Link since I started working at The Lion’s Den. He’s a nice guy, with blond hair cut low to his head, tan skin, blue eyes, and a Southern drawl that made women fall to their knees. He used to flirt with me when I first started, but when I didn’t return any of the banter, he laid off and became a friend. He is one of the only people who knows about my past and the things I’ve gone through.
“You didn’t have to wait for me,” I told him, pulling my bag across my body.
“I’m not letting you go through this alone.” He pulled me into his side.
I could feel tears stinging my eyes, and I fought them back. I wasn’t going to cry until this was all over, when I could do it alone while hiding under my covers with my face stuffed into a pillow…like I always did.
He gave me a squeeze, and I felt his lips at the top of my head.
“I don’t understand why I have to leave the state,” I told Link, putting another pair of shoes in my bag. I had no idea how long I would be gone, and Link had made it sound like I wouldn’t be able to come back to Vegas for a long while.
“I hate to remind you, but you’re the only witness, and from what the cops said, the guy is a killer paid by the Mob to do hits on people.”
I sighed, looking around my house. I hated that I was leaving, but I knew it was for the best. I’d been at the police station for over eight hours, going over what had happened. Then I’d sat with a sketch artist. Somehow, the guy who had shot Tessa and those men had avoided every camera in the club. The cops had informed me that I needed to be extra cautious. I was the only witness, and they were concerned that he would come after me.
When Link had found out what they’d said, he’d made a call to one of his friends from back home in Tennessee and asked if he would be willing to let me stay with him until the police caught the guy. The man, Kenton, had agreed, telling Link that I would be safe. I hated that I was leaving my home, but if my only options were either death or moving, the choice was begrudgingly clear.
“I hope they get the guy fast,” I mumbled.
“Me too, but until then, you will be far away from here and safe.”
“Are you sure it’s a good idea to have me stay with this guy? I mean, how well do you really know him?”
“We were best friends growing up. He’s a good guy. You’ll be safe with him.”
I bit the inside of my cheek and nodded before going into the closet to get another suitcase. Might as well pack enough stuff to last me. Once I was all packed and ready to go, we got into Link’s SUV and headed for the airport. I was nervous the whole way, feeling like something crazy was about to happen…
“Ladies and gentlemen, we’re about twenty minutes out from our arrival destination. The weather in Nashville is mostly clear and sunny. The temperature is eighty-five degrees. The pilot has now turned on the fasten seatbelt sign. Flight crew, please prepare for landing,” I hear through my sleep-ridden state and lift my head from the wall where I was resting it.
The memories of what happened yesterday leave my head as I wipe my mouth with the sleeve of my sweater before looking around to see that everyone is putting their belongings away. I make sure my seatbelt is secure before sitting back. My leg starts quickly bouncing up and down, and I rub the tattoo behind my ear, trying to think about something other than the plane landing.
Once we are on the ground, I wait until everyone is off the plane to make my way out into the terminal. I go to baggage claim and look around, but I have no clue what this guy looks like. All I know is that his name is Kenton and he is supposed to be picking me up.
I don’t see anyone who looks like they’re searching for someone, so I go to the conveyer belt and spot one of my bags as soon as I get there. I pull it off, stumbling back slightly from the weight as every guy here just watches me without offering to help.
I look around again, wondering if I’m supposed to call someone to tell them that I landed. I pull my phone out, click it off airplane mode, and send a text to Link, letting him know that I have arrived. He sends me a message back, letting me know that Kenton called and told him that he couldn’t make it to pick me up and I should just catch a cab to his house. The door would be unlocked, and the address is in the message.
I shake my head, cursing under my breath, and almost miss one of my other bags going around the belt. Luckily, I catch it at the last second. I carry it over to my other bag and turn around just in time to see my last bag about to go through the tunnel. I run as fast as I can in my flip-flops and land halfway on the conveyor belt. My bottom half is being dragged along the floor as I grab the handle of my bag, pulling it back so hard that it flies over me, causing me to land on my back with my hands over my head.
“You must be Autumn,” I hear rumbled from above me.
I tilt my head back and look up at the man standing over me. He’s upside down, but even from my awkward position, I can tell that he is good-looking. His chuckle makes me grit my teeth. I stand up, putting my bag on its wheels and dusting off my butt before turning back to face him.
He raises a brow at me, shaking his head, looking me over from head to toe. My body heats immediately under his gaze. I take my sweater off, wrapping it around my waist and clearing my throat.
“You are?” I ask him again, getting annoyed that he’s obviously finding this so funny, if the smirk on his face is anything to go by.
“Kenton.” He smiles. “Those bags yours?” He nods towards my other two bags.
“Yes.” I blow some hair out of my face, looking into his amber eyes and wondering why the hell I feel so hot all of a sudden.
He looks away, going over to my bags while I take the time to look him over. He’s tall, much taller than my five six. His hair touches the edge of the black T-shirt he has on. He needed a cut a while ago, but judging by the dark scruff along his jaw, I can tell that he doesn’t care much about grooming. His shoulders are broad, tapering down to a lean waist. His thighs are thick, encased in a pair of dark jeans that have shredded around the seams, and his wallet is imprinted in the back pocket like he wears them often.
I look at his ass as he leans over. I can’t believe I’m checking a man out; I’m not one to be the slightest bit sexually interested in anyone. My eyes travel lower, looking at his feet, which are encased in a very large pair of black boots. I wonder absently if what they say about shoe size is true. I shake my head at my thoughts, dragging my bag with me towards him.
“I thought you couldn’t make it,” I tell him when I reach his side. My head tilts back to look up into his eyes.
“Yeah, change of plans,” he mutters, looking at me.
I wait to see if he’s going to say anything else. Apparently, he isn’t going to, so I shake my head again and lower my face towards the ground.
“You tired?” His voice is dark and rich, and it does something crazy to my insides. I nod, lifting my head. “Let’s roll. You can sleep when we reach the house.”
I don’t say anything else. Something is wrong with me. Maybe I’m getting sick, I think, putting my palm to my forehead. When I don’t feel anything, I start to follow him out of the terminal to the car park.
When we reach the parking lot, he stops and pulls a set of keys from his pocket. I hear the beep and look around, expecting him to be driving a large truck, a Hummer, or maybe even a tank. I never expected him to be driving a Dodge Viper. The black-on-black of the car only makes it look hotter. I look at my bags, wondering how we will get them in the car.
“It’ll be tight, but they’ll fit,” he mumbles, pulling my other two bags with him.
I can’t help but notice the flex of his muscles as he gets my bags into the car or the fact even his fingers are attractive. It takes some maneuvering, but he does get my bags to fit. I sigh, sitting down on the warm leather once we’re done.
“I’m just gonna drop you off at the house. I gotta head out for a bit, but you have free rein. Just make yourself at home. There’s food in the fridge and fresh sheets on the bed in the guest room.”
“Thank you for doing this,” I tell him, looking at his profile. He is seriously good-looking, and the butterflies in my stomach are making me feel anxious about staying with him.
“Don’t mention it. So…you and Link?”
It takes a second to decipher his words between the thickness of his accent, his smell, and the nervous energy I’m feeling. Being in his presence, my brain seems to have shut down.
“He’s a friend.” Shit, maybe I should have said that he was my boyfriend.
I look over at him again; he doesn’t seem to be as on edge as I am. He’s probably used to women swooning over him. My gut tightens with something, and it takes a second to realize what it is. My body freezes. Jealousy? Really? I must be going into shock or something. I don’t get jealous.
“How’d you two meet?”
“We work at the same club,” I murmur, squirming in my seat.
“Oh yeah,” he mumbles, his knuckles turning white from his grip on the steering wheel. I don’t know what that means, but the energy in the car changes, making me want to get away from him.
We drive in silence for the next half hour, the car winding its way through one small town after another until we go up what seems like the side of a mountain. The area is surrounded by forest on either side of the road. We drive for five more minutes before turning onto a dirt road that takes us deeper into the forest. I want to ask if he lives out here and about where he works—and a million other questions—but my mouth has gone dry and the energy in his car hasn’t gotten any better, so I decide to keep my mouth shut.
I’m going to be stuck with him for a while, so I figure there will be time for all of that later. I look ahead of us and squint as the image of a large house comes into view. It is a very large brick house. The front has two porches—one on the first floor, one on the second—and both wrap around the front of the house. It’s beautiful and expansive.
I look over at Kenton again, gauging if I should ask him if this is his house. His jaw is ticking, and the vein in his neck is pulsing wildly. I have no idea what’s set him off, but I figure my best bet is to sit there quietly until he calms down.
We park in front of the house, where there is no real designated parking place. He unfolds himself out of the car without saying anything, and I take it as my cue to follow him. By the time I make it to the back of the car, he has both of my bags out and is back on the driver’s side, sliding his seat forward so he can get to the bag in the back seat. Without a word, he carries two of my bags up the front porch and right into the house. I drag my last bag with me, following close behind him.
He sets my bags down at the bottom of the staircase then turns to look at me. “Your room is at the top of the stairs to the right. There’s a bathroom across the hall you can use. I have my own.” He runs a hand through his hair and looks me over again, anger apparent on his face. “I don’t want random men in my house, so if you need to get off, take care of yourself.”
I blink at him as he continues.
“The code for the alarm is 4-5-9-3. Don’t forget to set it when you’re in the house. I don’t know when I’ll be back, but you’ll be safe here.” Before I even have a chance to form a complete thought, he is closing the door behind him, shouting, “Set the alarm!” I stand there for a few minutes, just looking at the door. Then I look around for an alarm but don’t see one. Tears sting my nose again as I recall the look of disgust on his face when he told me to get myself off. I say a silent, “Fuck you,” and look at my bags then the stairs, shaking my head. I can cry once I get settled in the room.
I carry my bags one at a time up the stairs, and by the time I’m done, I’m so exhausted that I lie face-first on the bed, put my head under the pillow, and cry until I fall asleep.
There is a pounding on the door, and I roll, falling off the bed and onto the floor. “You didn’t set the alarm,” I hear growled.
I stand up, pushing my hair out of my face, and glare at Kenton, who is standing in the doorway with his arms crossed over his chest.
“I looked and didn’t see the alarm to set it.” I copy his posture, crossing my arms over my chest.
“You should have called and asked me where it is.”
I scoff. “With what? Magic? I don’t have your number.”
“You could have asked Link for it.” He shakes his head.
“I’m sorry, but if you wanted me to have your number, I figured you would’ve given it to me,” I retort.
“Did you eat?” he asks, changing the subject suddenly and throwing me off guard.
“Did you eat something?”
“No, and I’m not hungry. I’m just really tired,” I tell him, rubbing my f
“You need to eat something,” he chides, uncrossing his arms and placing his hands on his hips.
“Okay, don’t get me wrong. I’m really thankful for you looking out for me, but I have been taking care of myself for a very long time. I don’t want or need a babysitter.”
“Suit yourself.” He shrugs then looks me over again, his eyes lingering on my chest.
I glance down and groan. Seriously? My boobs are in my bra, hanging over the top of my tank top. I quickly adjust my shirt before narrowing my eyes on him.
He smirks, looking up into my face. “Make sure you set the alarm from now on. The panel is inside the room off the entry, first door to the right.”
“Got it.” My body is doing that hot thing again, and I wonder why it keeps happening when he’s around.
“All right, doll. Get some rest. I’ll see you tomorrow.” He lets his eyes linger on me for a few more moments and then shakes his head, stepping out of the room.
I go to the side of the bed and turn on the light before walking to the door and shutting it. I lean my head back, closing my eyes and breathing in deeply. I run a finger across the tattoo behind my ear before opening my eyes and looking around. I can do this; I have lived through much worse and come out on top. I just need to get a plan in place.
It’s been three weeks since I moved to Tennessee. Three weeks of living with Kenton, who I don’t see very often, and when I do, he’s usually leaving for work or coming in before going to bed. One of the longest talks we’ve had was the other day when he came in and told me that he had something for me and to meet him out front. I tucked my Kindle away and followed him out of the house, down the front steps, to a small VW Beetle.
“My cousin’s wife just got rid of it. You don’t have a car, and I know it’s not an easy trek to town.”
I looked from the car, to him, then back again.
“Here’s the key. It has a full tank of gas, new tires, plus a tune-up,” he told me, holding out the key between his large fingers. “This is the part where you say, ‘Thank you,’” he grumbled, looking at me then at the keys in his hand.
Assumption by Aurora Rose Reynolds / Romance & Love / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes