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       Obligation, p.2

         Part #2 of Underground Kings series by Aurora Rose Reynolds
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  “Are you feeling better, now that you have showered?” He searches my face as his fingers come up to run along the underside of my jaw.

  “Yes,” I mutter as that knot in my stomach loosens and another feeling begins to take root.

  “Good,” he murmurs, leaning forward and brushing his lips lightly over mine.

  My hand goes to his chest, feeling the warmth of his skin and the beat of his heart through the material of his shirt. When he leans back, his eyes search mine for a moment before looking away. The moment the connection is broken, I pull in a breath and turn on his lap to face the man across the table.

  “Myla, I would like you to meet detective, Nero Wolfe. Nero, this is my wife, Myla Kauwe.” He squeezes my thigh when my nails dig into his.

  “Nice to meet you, Myla.” He smiles, showing off a dimple in his left cheek, which is highlighted by his tan skin. His dark-brown eyes look between Kai and me as he shakes his head, causing his shaggy, dirty-blond hair to slide against the collar of his dress shirt. If he weren’t wearing a suit, I would’ve guessed he’s a surfer, not a detective.

  “Nice to meet you,” I murmur, shifting slightly under his gaze. I knew we would eventually need to talk to the police about what happened, but I was hoping I would have a few days for myself to accept everything.

  “Kai has filled me in on most of what occurred, but I do have a few questions for you. If that’s okay?” he asks softly.

  I war with myself on turning to look at Kai for permission. I was not prepared for this, and I feel like I have been put on the spot.

  “Of course.” I nod and pull away from Kai, moving to my own seat.

  I need to remember that this is all a lie; we may be married, but it’s not out of choice—it’s out of necessity. I can’t let my personal vulnerabilities affect this situation. And as much as I hate to admit it, Kai has an enormous effect on me.

  “Well, let’s get started, then,” Nero says, rearranging some papers on top of the table. “I know you and Kai were married yesterday in Vegas, but can you tell me what happened the day before?”

  I wrap my arms around myself and look over my shoulder towards the door, where I want to escape, but my eyes land on Aye, who nods and gives me a small smile. Then I feel a squeeze on my thigh and the roughness of Kai’s palm as it moves along my skin.

  I turn my head back towards Nero without acknowledging Kai. “What would you like to know?”

  “Start from the beginning.” He gives a slight smile, picking up a pen.

  I nod again and pull my feet up under me on the chair, trying to get my thoughts in order before I begin.

  “I own a bakery in downtown Seattle called Raining Sprinkles.” I swallow, remembering that my bakery is nothing but ash and rubble now.

  “Take your time,” Nero says comfortingly.

  “Like I said, I own a bakery, and on Sundays, I open the bakery alone and give my girls the day off because it’s normally pretty slow in the shop. Really, the day started out like any other day. I got there around five, made a pot of coffee, and took care of some stuff in the office until around six. At six, I went to the kitchen and threw together a few batches of muffins, put them in the oven, and then went out to start stocking the display cases. At eight, I flipped the sign from closed to open, and not long after that, my first customer came in.”

  I pause, taking a breath while wrapping my arms a little tighter around myself. “The rest of the day was uneventful. There was nothing out of the ordinary. I was busy because I was on my own, but I expected that. At around two thirty, I went to the back and pushed a load of dishes through the dishwasher, and when I got back out front, I realized the man from that morning was still sitting at the same table he had been when I first opened.”

  I close my eyes and open them slowly. “I went and made sure he was okay and that he didn’t want anything. Then I told him I closed at three. When three o’clock came around, he was gone. I took care of a couple of customers who had been waiting for me to box up their items and walked them to the door to leave. As soon as they were gone, I shut the door, and I was flipping the sign over when the man from earlier came running up to the door, telling me through the glass he thought he left his phone in the bathroom.”

  I bite my lip and, without thinking, look at Kai and then back at Nero before speaking again. “I got a weird feeling, so I stood by the door while he looked around for his phone. I was watching him when the door was shoved open and I stumbled back. I thought it was a customer, but that’s when I looked up and saw my brother, Thad.” I shudder as bile crawls up my throat and nausea rolls in my stomach.

  “Are you okay?” Nero asks as I pull in a deep breath.

  “Fine,” I whisper, putting my feet on the floor while sliding away from Kai’s touch. “I was taken aback when I realized who it was. I had not seen him since I was eighteen and moved away from home. He pushed his way past me and then let in a few other men,” I say, and I feel Kai’s hand on my lower back as he lifts my shirt slightly. Then his fingers begin to move over my skin. I wonder if he is trying to remind me of the things I’m not supposed to talk about.

  “Then what happened?” Nero questions softly, and I lean back slightly into Kai’s hand, who pauses his movement before resuming.

  “He forced me into the back room. My brother said he owed some men money and that I needed to give it to him. I don’t know if he was on drugs or what, but he seemed really afraid. I told him I didn’t have the kind of money he was asking for, and he proceeded to tie me to a chair.”

  “Then what?”

  “I don’t know,” I say faintly. “I was hit over the head, and when I woke up, Kai was pulling me out of the burning building,” I look over at Kai, and even if I never tell anyone every detail of what really occurred, I do know that that part is not a lie, and I will forever be indebted to him.

  “Then you went to Vegas and got married?”

  I pull my eyes from Kai to look at Nero. “Yes. Well…we had been planning on getting married,” I lie.

  Kai’s hand pauses on my back. We never discussed what exactly happened to me or what we would say if someone asked me about this, so I was trying to think on my toes.

  “After what occurred, I realized how short life is, and I told Kai I didn’t want to live another day without him and that I was tired of putting off our relationship. So we stopped in Vegas on the way here and got married,” I tell him.

  Nero searches my face. Then his eyes drop to the pad in front of him, where he begins to write again.

  I bite my lip, feeling like I have done something wrong. I have no idea what I should have said. I don’t think, “I met him for the first time yesterday, and I married him because he told me that was the only way he could keep me safe at this time,” would have gone over so well.

  “And you don’t remember anything else?” he asks, lifting his head to look at me.

  I shake my head and pull my feet back up under me. “Nothing,” I mutter, pressing my lips together.

  “Can you tell me a little about your brother?”

  My body stills and I feel all the blood drain out of my face. “There is nothing to tell,” I whisper, hating myself a little bit for being so weak when it comes to him.

  “Are you okay?” Nero asks, reading my face.

  “Fine. Just tired.” I sit up, putting my elbows on the table, holding my hair back from my face as images from my past flash through my head.

  Being taken from my parents when I was little and told that they were dead.

  Moving in with Modesto and Ida Akskvo and their two sons, Thad and Royce.

  Being told that, if I ever spoke of where I really came from, I would die.

  Having happy memories of my life with my new family.

  Working in my dad Modesto’s bakery. Shopping with my mom Ida.

  Hanging out with my brother Royce.

  But then everything changed when I turned sixteen and Thad started sneaking into my room at night, show
ing me that Hell can exist on Earth.

  The memories alone of the things he did to me, the things he took from me, cause me to gag. I stand from the chair and run out of the dining room. I have no idea where I’m going and begin opening and closing doors along the way until I finally find one that leads to a bathroom. I slam the door behind me, fumble with the lock on the door until I hear it click, and then feel along the wall, finding the switch and turning it on.

  The moment my eyes adjust to the light, I see my refection looking back at me. My face is pale, my dirty-blond hair looks stringy, and my lips are a darker pink than normal. Another wave of nausea hits me, and I lunge for the toilet. It takes a few minutes to get myself under control, and when I do, I realize someone is pounding on the door so hard that the painting on the wall is shaking.

  “I’m kicking it in!” Kai yells from the other side.

  I’m about to tell him that I’m opening it when the door crashes in, banging against the wall, and wood flies everywhere. Kai appears in the bathroom doorway. Our gazes lock, and I see something flash within his eyes as he storms towards me.

  “I’m going to carry you so you don’t get anything stuck in your feet,” he says softly, picking me up. “Aye, tell Detective Nero we’re going to have to reschedule. My wife isn’t feeling well,” Kai mutters, carrying me into the room I was in this morning and shutting the door with his foot before carrying me to the bed, where he gently lays me down. “Let me get a washcloth for you,” he says, walking into the bathroom.

  I hear the water turn on, and a moment later, he comes back carrying a rag.

  “You need to tell me what happened at the bakery before I showed up.”

  He sits on the side of the bed and holds the wet cloth out for me. I take it from his hand, trying to control how badly I’m shaking. What happened begins to play in my head like an old movie.

  “Myla, I’ve missed you,” Thad said, wrapping an arm around my waist, walking me backwards into the shop.

  His body bent, his face went to my neck, and I felt his tongue touch my skin. My body froze and I instantly hated myself for not screaming, for not fighting, but like all those years ago, my body had stiffened in fear.

  “What are you doing here?” I whispered as two more men walked in. My stomach dropped as I watched one of the men close the door and turn the lock.

  “It’s your birthday,” he said as he began to pull me with him towards the back of the shop.

  I cried out and tried to pull away, and he smiled evilly and started to laugh. His fingers dug into my skin so hard that I knew I would be bruised.

  “Please let me go.” I tried to pull away again, but his grip tightened, and he dragged me to the back room, shoving me into a chair.

  “Shut up,” he ordered with a finger in my face. Then he looked over at one of the men who had just walked in. “Go to her place and get all of her shit. Then meet us here,” he said, tossing my purse at the guy.

  “Got it,” he said, digging my keys out of my bag and leaving the room.

  “What’s going on? Why are you here?” I whispered.

  Thad turned towards me. His hand went to my jaw, his thumb and middle finger on either side, where he squeezed hard.

  “I’m taking you home and you’re getting married. Mom is going to be so happy,” he smiled.

  I felt bile fill my throat, making it hard to breathe. “What are you taking about?” I finally got out through my fear.

  “Oh, princess, there is so much you don’t know.” His hands went to each arm of the chair and his body caged mine in. “Don’t worry though. We’ll have plenty of time to talk about it.” He licked my neck, making my stomach roll.

  When he pulled away, my eyes locked on the man’s across the room, the man who had been in my shop all day. Something flashed in his eyes, but he turned his face away from me before I could catch it.

  “We have a busy day ahead of us,” Thad said.

  I looked around, trying to plan my escape.

  “Myla? Myla.”

  I realize I’m being shaken. My eyes focus in on Kai’s face above me, and I quickly scoot back in the bed, hitting my head on the headboard in the process.

  “Careful,” he complains as I rub the top of my head.

  “Sorry.”

  “Don’t apologize.” He looks away from me to the view outside. “Do you want to talk about what happened?”

  I shake my head and then realize he’s still looking out the window. “No.” I lean my head back and close my eyes. “I’m sorry about telling the detective we were dating. He caught me off guard and I was already flustered, and honestly, I had no idea what to say. We probably should have talked about that. I mean, I don’t even know if you have a girlfriend.” My eyes fly open and connect with his, and I can see laugh lines around his eyes and a smile on his lips. “Do you have a girlfriend?” I hiss, watching as his smile gets bigger.

  “You talk a lot,” he chuckles, shaking his head.

  “Well, do you?” I growl. I never even thought about that for one moment, and something about the thought of him having a girlfriend makes me feel a different kind of nausea.

  “No.”

  “Good.” I nod, and his smile gets bigger. “I just mean good because I would feel horrible if you were dating someone and then got married to someone else.”

  “Myla, I know.” He rubs my knee, and a tingling sensation begins to fill my lower belly.

  “How badly did I mess up with Nero?” I question, sitting up farther and moving away from his touch.

  “You did fine. We spoke before you came in, so he understands you’re still trying to deal with what happened.”

  I bite my lip while wrapping my arms around myself. Then I look out the window. “So, now what?”

  “Now what?” he repeats, and my eyes travel back to him.

  “Yeah. Now what do we do? You said we needed to talk to your lawyer.”

  “You do nothing. I canceled the meeting with my lawyer when Nero showed up, and now, I have business to take care of. If the gods are working in my favor, we can get everything resolved and things can get back to normal,” he says softly.

  I dip my head slightly in agreement, even if my normal was lost a long time ago.

  Chapter 2

  I Know You

  I look over my shoulder at the house behind me when I hear Kai yelling. I push my sunglasses up to the top of my head and put my Kindle down on the table next to my lounger.

  “Stay here,” Aye says, taking off towards the house.

  When the voices begin to get louder, I get up and head inside. I walk softly down the hall and peek around the corner, seeing the guy who let Thad into the bakery. He’s standing in the kitchen alone, his body pressed close to the wall, his head tilted back like he’s waiting for the moment to strike.

  My gut twists with anxiety, but I battle it back, head down the hall, and open the bathroom door, looking for anything to use as a weapon. It’s a half-bath with a pedestal sink and a mirror; there are no drawers or cabinets. I’m about to give up and go search out somewhere else when the plunger catches my eye. I pick it up and test the weight in my hand. It’s a heavy, wooden one with a large, black, rubber end. I take it with me down the hall and wait just outside the kitchen.

  The guy is no longer there, but Aye is standing next to the counter. I start to walk towards him, but the guy begins to sneak up on Aye. Without thinking, I charge at him with the plunger over my head and bring it down hard on his head. The rubber end flies off and bounces across the kitchen floor as the guy crumples to the ground.

  “Wh—” Aye looks down at the guy, who is now knocked out, then looks back at me with wide eyes. “Why did you do that?” He takes the plunger stick from my hand and looks at it then back down at the guy.

  “He was sneaking up on you,” I tell him, turning the guy onto his stomach then pulling his hands behind his back, using the skills I learned in a self-defense class I took, to make sure he is immobilized. “Do you
have cuffs or something?” I ask, looking up at Aye from my bent position.

  “We’re not cuffing Pika,” he mutters, shaking his head while looking at me like he has no idea who I am.

  “This is one of the guys from the bakery,” I tell him.

  His eyes flash with understanding, and Pika starts to moan, so I grab the stick from Aye’s hand and start to hit the guy again, but then it’s snatched away from me.

  “Myla?”

  I turn my head towards the kitchen opening when Kai says my name. His eyes travel down my body, over the bikini I’m wearing, making goose bumps break out along my skin. When his eyes reach my toes, they widen at the sight of the guy lying at my feet.

  “What’s going on?” He steps into the kitchen and over to my side.

  My belly dips as his smell surrounds me. He smells like spice, coconut, and the hot sun. Every time he’s near, I have to stop myself from leaning closer.

  “This is the guy who let Thad into my bakery. The one who said he left his phone,” I tell him.

  His eyes go soft, and he unbuttons his shirt so he’s wearing nothing but a pair of black dress pants and his shoes. I watch as his abs flex. Then he opens the shirt and slips it around my shoulders. I pull away slightly and push my arms through the holes, holding my breath for a moment, keeping his scent in my lungs as long as I can.

  “This is one of my guys,” he tells me, crouching down and rolling the guy over.

  “He was at my bakery. He…he is the reason Thad got inside,” I repeat in a stammer, watching as the guy’s eyes open and then focus on me.

  “He was my inside source for the men Thad was working for,” Kai says, helping Pika sit up.

  “What do you mean he was working for you?” I look at the injured man then at Kai.

  “Why don’t you come with me?” Aye suggests softly, grabbing my hand.

  “No.” I shake his touch off and cross my arms over my chest. “Why didn’t you tell me that before?” I glare at Kai.

 
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