The peer and the puppet, p.11
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       The Peer and the Puppet, p.11

           B. B. Reid

  Confidence gave way to disbelief after he shoved the truth down my throat. “So what? You’ll set me up again and send me back?”

  A derisive snort and then, “I can do better than Natasha Madison’s School of Ladies.” He cocked his head to the side. “How important is your mother’s happiness to you?”

  I became a statue. “Leave Rosalyn out of this.”

  “Keep your mouth shut, and I’ll keep mine.”

  My heart raced, and my palms turned sweaty. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

  “Then, if I were you, I’d figure it out quickly. I feel like singing.”

  “I have nothing to hide!”

  “I didn’t say you did.” The silence that followed was almost telling.

  No. “What do you know?” I demanded with my fists clenched and my voice grave. All pretense of innocence had slipped away.

  “I know that your mother is batshit crazy and that her pussy must be lined in gold for my father to have missed the signs. It’s a good thing I’m not fucking her.”

  I exhaled and with the release came the realization that I’d been outsmarted. Ever had me backed into a corner with no escape.

  How did he know?

  However he found out, there was no going back. “So I keep my mouth shut and you keep yours?” I held out my hand to seal the deal, and already, my skin tingled. Bastard.

  He sighed as if disappointed and ignored my hand. “If only it were that simple, but I can’t trust what I don’t control.”

  My hand fell to my side when the flesh covering my entire body burned. “What does that mean?”

  His eyes flashed with anticipation. “It means, puppet, I finally have a pet name for you.”

  Dinner that night had been yet another stilted affair.

  Jamie joined us halfway through with a bruise covering most of his left cheek. Thomas questioned him relentlessly, but Jamie avoided answering. Ever casually sipped his water while Rosalyn stared into her own glass. It didn’t seem to bother her or Ever at all when the yelling began. Thomas eventually ordered Jamie into his office, and together, they disappeared, leaving Rosalyn, Ever, and me to finish dinner together. I was mulling over Ever’s bruised knuckles, which Thomas never seemed to notice, when Rosalyn finally spoke.

  “How was your first day back, dear?”

  “It was like I’d never left.” But I did, and I still couldn’t find it in me to forgive her for sending me away. Now that I knew Ever had talked them into it, I wasn’t sure I ever would.

  An awkward silence fell over the table as Rosalyn stewed in her guilt. I was content to keep it that way, but of course, Ever had other plans.

  “You should tell her about our arrangement,” he casually suggested. He never even bothered lifting his gaze from his plate. As if toying with me was as natural to him as breathing.

  I could kill him.

  “Your…arrangement?” I could hear the alarm in Rosalyn’s voice and wondered if I’d have to shove pills down her throat in the morning. With wide eyes, she waited for an explanation, and I wracked my brain for one.

  “We have English together,” Ever offered when the silence became telling.

  “Oh, how nice,” she rushed out with obvious relief.

  I glared at Ever across the table when Rosalyn busied herself studying her nails. If the table weren’t so damn wide, I’d kick him and wipe that dazzling smile off his face. What it did to me frightened me more than his veiled threats did.

  “If you ladies will excuse me,” Ever announced as he rose from the table. “I have shit to do.”

  Rosalyn flinched at his swearing, but he pretended not to notice. Despite our agreement, I couldn’t resist returning the favor and toying with him since I had a good idea what he was going to do and who he was doing it for.

  “Should I tell your father where you’re going?”

  He simply winked, and I pretended a certain part of me didn’t weep as he walked away.

  “What an odd boy,” Rosalyn remarked when he was out of earshot.

  “I wouldn’t exactly call him odd.”

  “He’s much too intense for his age.” She then eyed me curiously. “And don’t think I didn’t see him wink at you.” Her gaze sharpened when I froze. “What was that about?”

  I dug my nails into my thigh, a reaction she couldn’t see. I’d stupidly fallen into his trap once again.

  Oh, Ever…you’re going to pay.

  And I wouldn’t just rip him from his throne. I’d crush him under my heel like the worm he was.

  “A boy too into his looks?” She seemed to accept my answer and went back to sipping her water. “Aren’t you going to eat?” She’d barely touched her plate.

  “I’m full.”

  “You’ve hardly eaten anything.”

  “I had a big lunch,” she replied in a tone that warned me away from the subject.

  My appetite was suddenly gone, but I forced the rest of my food down so I wouldn’t look like a hypocrite and excused myself. I had the feeling my room would be my sanctuary until I graduated. Brynwood was relentless in its pursuit of educating, and so, at the end of the first day, I found myself with homework. I headed for the simple ivory desk and felt my heart race when I came across a folded slip of paper. There were no lines, but the jagged edges showed it had been torn from its binding.

  Someone knocked on my door, but I ignored them and flipped open the paper.

  Once upon a puppet, she spun a tale to the mad king.

  - The Peer

  “What does that even mean?” I didn’t have to question who the note was from.

  Haughty bastard.

  Another knock, this one more demanding, had me tossing the note on my desk.

  Thomas, with his tie undone and his shirt rumpled, stood at the threshold with a grimace.

  “Have you seen my son?” he demanded. My stomach knotted when his gaze swept the room.

  Did Thomas think Ever was with me? The words Your prig of a son hangs with gang bangers teased my tongue, but suddenly, the note made sense.

  It wasn’t a riddle.

  It was an order.

  He’d known Thomas would look for him, and he wanted me to cover for him.

  How did I go from plotting to ruin this guy to saving his ass? Thomas looked ready to explode.

  “I haven’t seen him since dinner.”

  “Your mother says he mentioned an errand and that you might know where he went.” My tit for tat had placed me in Thomas’s crosshairs and Ever seized the perfect opportunity to use me.

  Ever - 1

  Four - 0

  “Yeah, he, uh…went to the store.”

  “The store?” His frown pulled even deeper. Was it so unusual for the prince to do his own shopping? How freaking privileged of him.

  “Yes, the store. He said he needed…deodorant.”


  “Got to have deodorant.” It wasn’t that I was a terrible liar, but he never said that I’d need to lie well for him.

  “I figured he might have gone down to the school to watch his old teammates practice.”

  Well shit. “Yeah, I think he mentioned something about stopping by.”

  “All right…thanks, Four.” He walked away, and I shut my door with a shrug. I don’t think my story sold, but it wasn’t really my problem, was it?

  Ten minutes later, my door flew open. A shirtless Jamie stood on the other side of the threshold with his hand covering his eyes.

  “Are you decent?”

  “Yes, but you could have knocked.”

  “That’s a shame.” He sighed. “I was peeking.”

  “What do you want?”

  He flopped onto my bed and rolled onto his side before resting his head in his hand. “What’s the deal with you and my cousin? You boning or what?”

  I sighed and slammed my textbook shut. “Not that it’s any of your business, no. I’m not screwing your cousin.”

  He snorted. “Not yet anyway

  My body heated with anticipation. God, I hated these narcissistic—

  “You’re blushing,” he teased.

  “Trust me, it’s never happening. Your cousin made it clear to his friends that I’m an undesirable.” I think I hated that word even more.

  “He said that?” Jamie cackled. While I could only nod, his grin only grew. “That sneaky motherfucker!” Despite his words, there was admiration and delight in Jamie’s eyes.

  “Want to fill me in?”

  “Marking you undesirable ensures no one will pursue you.”

  “Yeah, I got that. What I don’t get is why it matters to him.”

  Jamie looked at me like I was dense. “My cousin doesn’t want anyone touching what’s his.”

  “Give it a rest.” I groaned as I spoke. “We’re not hooking up. It’s too weird given that our parents sleep in the same bedroom.”

  “So you’re saying, if they broke up, you’d be game?”

  “Absolutely not. He and I are from two different worlds, and Ever has no problem making sure I remember that. Or weren’t you there this afternoon?”

  “You’re talking about your welcome present?” I nodded, and he shook his head with a smile. “Ever didn’t arrange that. I did.”

  What? My arms folded as my gaze narrowed. “I thought you said you weren’t getting involved?”

  “I’m not, but that doesn’t mean I won’t have a little fun.”

  “Either way, I’m sure he appreciated it.” I guess that answered the question about whether I could trust Jamie. He wasn’t my friend although I wasn’t entirely sure he was Ever’s either.

  “I didn’t do that for Ever.” He then pointed to the bruise on his right cheek. “I did it to piss him off.”


  Jamie’s voice flattened when he replied, “It’s complicated.”

  “Complicated like you having a thing for his girlfriend?”

  He stiffened before slowly rising from the bed. I couldn’t take back my words, and after what he did to me, I didn’t care to, so I stared after him as he headed for the door. He stood on the threshold, back stiff, fingers strangling the knob.

  Damn it. An apology was poised on my lips because I wasn’t a vicious bitch, but then he spoke.

  “She was mine first.”

  I PRESSED IGNORE ON MY dad’s fifth call and slid from the Crown Vic I’d paid for with cash from a man who didn’t care who I was or what I needed it for. The Exiled had seized Queens from Thirteen, the rival gang who cast out Nathaniel Fox twenty-eight years ago. Despite the kill order, if he was ever caught within Thirteen territory, which nearly encompassed the entire east coast, he founded Exiled with his late partner Crow and had made a point to be a thorn in Thirteen’s side ever since.

  Tonight’s mission was to commandeer another piece of Thirteen’s operation—a house in Long Island with half a million dollars’ worth of cocaine stashed inside. The only problem was the elderly couple currently occupying the residence.

  Four men were seated around the table when I entered the room, and all but one greeted me.

  Wren Harlan, one of Fox’s most trusted lieutenants and Shane’s protégé, didn’t trust me, and he never bothered to hide it. He wasn’t much older than I was—two years, maybe three—and because he’d been born into Exiled, it was all he knew. At the meeting this afternoon, he’d been itching for a fight, and I had been all too ready to oblige when I caught Four’s wide eyes staring at me through that window.

  Always so troublesome.

  I took the only empty seat left, and Shane began speaking from his perch at the head of the table. “Now that Danny Boy’s graced us with his presence, let’s go over the plan.” He nodded to Wren to take over.

  “It’s simple,” Wren began. “Our scout says they’re already down for the night, but it’s impossible to do the job quietly, so we subdue them.” With his eyes trained on me, he added, “I don’t like surprises or amateurs with happy trigger fingers.” He then met the gaze of each person around the table. “No one. Kill. The elderly.”

  “You know Sonny Franzese is a senior citizen,” Siko pointed out. Not only did he look like Joseph Sikora, but he also had a few screws loose hence his street name. “And he wouldn’t hesitate to shoot us if we tried to rob him.”

  Eddie, a Hispanic cat from Harlem, sucked his teeth. “Isn’t he dead, puto?”

  “Nah, I think he’s still alive.”

  “Damn, he’s got to be old as fuck. Like a hundred, right? You think he can still get it up?”

  “Enough,” Wren snapped.

  Siko and Eddie immediately fell silent. Since Wren had likely earned his stripes in unimaginable ways, the respect came naturally.

  “If it’s kill or be killed, I expect you to use your head.”

  Shane, Siko, and Eddie nodded their agreement. I didn’t react, and it didn’t escape Wren’s notice.

  “But if I find out they died for any other reason, you’ll feel their pain tenfold.”

  I met Wren’s stare head-on. I had no intentions of killing anyone, though I made one convincing monster. The disguise, after all, was the only thing keeping him leashed. He may be hardened, but even Wren knew that someday everyone met their match.

  There wasn’t anything left to say once Wren finished laying down the law, so Wren, Siko, Eddie, and I made our way to Long Island in Wren’s ’66 Impala while Shane stayed back. I had to admit Wren had taste. The polished interior of the Impala looked as if it had been completely restored while keeping its classic appeal.

  The only sound as we made our way to Long Island was Siko and Eddie squabbling in the back while Wren brooded behind the wheel, and I was left with my thoughts.

  The ruthless persona I adopted as Danny Boy didn’t come easy this time. I didn’t even need to question why. I’ve peddled drugs, kicked in doors, and roughed up people who probably didn’t deserve it, and until Four, I haven’t felt shame. She blew into town thinking she was a storm. She had no fucking idea. When I was initiated, I decided a soul was optional, and no brown-eyed girl was going to change that.

  “Having second thoughts, Boyd?” Wren hadn’t taken his eyes off the road, so either he had a gift or he was taunting me as usual. “It’s not too late to pussy out.”

  I chuckled even though the last thing I felt was humor. “You looking for a bigger cut?”

  “I don’t like the idea of getting my head blown off if you hesitate.”

  Siko would be the lookout while Eddie dealt with the residents. Wren had chosen me to help him extract the dope, most likely to keep an eye on me. It meant I was expected to have his back while he had mine. The only problem was neither of us trusted the other to do so.

  “I won’t hesitate.”

  He glanced away from the road, and we locked gazes. Forced to concentrate on driving, he broke the staring contest first, but I could see the muscle in his jaw ticking. He couldn’t figure me out, and it frustrated him.

  It was the same feeling I had about Four Archer.

  Case in point: I was on a mission that would likely end with my head getting blown off, and instead of focusing, I was obsessing over some wild girl who tempted me like no other but was too naïve to know that I’d dare to do something about it.

  This afternoon’s episode had me discreetly checking the side-view mirror. I’d found my car keys on my desk when I made it home, so I knew she had no way of following me, but Four had proven herself more than capable of surprising me at every turn. My mother warned me that one day I’d meet a girl who wasn’t afraid of a challenge. I’d laughed her off, but now more than ever, I wished she were here to tell me what to do with her little prophecy.

  I forced myself to swallow the bitter pill when Wren barked, “We’re here.”

  Siko and Eddie abandoned their bickering and sat up straighter. The brand-new two-story home had vinyl siding, burgundy shutters, and a freshly cut lawn. The small neighborhood was slumbering in the wee hours, but Wren cut the lig
hts anyway and parked at the end of the street. We covered the lower half of our faces with black bandanas before jogging to our target. The cold press of the pistol in my grip was a reminder of just how wrong this could go. I just hoped Vaughn had come through because I had a plan of my own.

  Siko slid into the shadows while Wren worked on the door. Within seconds, Eddie and I were following him into the darkened home, guns drawn, with only the moonlight shining through the curtains to help us see.

  Wren nodded to Eddie, a silent order to take care of the slumbering couple upstairs. I was forced to stay in character as he moved quickly and silently up the stairs. Wren led us to the basement where our informant told us the coke would be stored. He tried the door, and finding it locked, tucked his gun into his waistband and set to work on the lock.

  He was still working when I heard it.

  The faint thump came from above. Wren didn’t seem to notice as he continued working. I figured the coast was clear until the second thump came, and his head tilted the barest amount.

  I considered slamming my pistol against his skull, but I didn’t want to play my hand too soon. Wren shot up from his crouch and was headed for the stairs when a single gunshot—muffled by a silencer none of us had—filtered down from above. Heavy footsteps traveled across the upper floor at the same time we heard a second gunshot. This time, it came from outside.

  The stairs creaked under heavy footfalls at the same time someone entered the house. Trapped, we only had a second, maybe two, to make a decision.

  Grabbing Wren, who shook with rage, I forced him through the back door. We hopped the fences separating the yards until we reached the end of the street. The coast was clear, so we made for the car. Wren wasted no time speeding off while pounding and swearing at the steering wheel. His friends were either dead or we’d just left them to die. My money was on the former.

  The trip back to Queens was silent. Most notable was the absence of Siko and Eddie’s banter.

  It wasn’t supposed to go down like that. I only wanted the couple out of harm’s way, but staring down at my hands, I saw the blood on them anyway. It belonged to Siko and Eddie.

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