Rules of attraction, p.31
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       Rules of Attraction, p.31

         Part #2 of Perfect Chemistry series by Simone Elkeles
Page 31


  When I stop fighting, Devlin yells for them to stop. “Get him up,” he orders.

  I’m forced into the chair facing Devlin, who’s still looking like a powerful CEO in his unwrinkled suit. My shirt is ripped in several places and has blood splattered all over it.

  Devlin jerks back my head. “Consider this a jumping out of the Guerreros del barrio and a jumping in to the Devlin family. You’re a Devlin now. I know you won’t disappoint me. ”

  I don’t answer. Hell, I don’t even know if I could respond even if I wanted to. I do know that I’m not a Devlin and will never be a Devlin.

  “I appreciate your spirit, but don’t mess up my house or fight with my guys again or you’re a dead man. ” He walks out of the room, but not before ordering his guys to clean up his office before he gets back.

  I’m hauled out of the chair. The next thing I know, I’m being shoved into the backseat of the SUV.

  “Don’t fight me or Devlin,” Rodriguez says as we drive back. “We’ve got big plans, and I need you. Devlin’s guys don’t have the Mexican connections we have. That makes us valuable. ”

  I’m not feeling too valuable right now. My head feels like it’s about to explode. “Stop the car,” Rodriguez orders when we’re a few houses away from the Westfords’. He opens the door and drags me out. “Make sure you take care of that girl who you’re livin’ with. I wouldn’t want anythin’ to happen to her. ” He gets back in the car and tosses the envelope of money at my feet. “You should be as good as new in a week. I’ll contact you then,” he says, and drives off.

  I can hardly stand, but I force myself to the front door of the Westfords’ house. I bet I look the same as I feel: like complete shit. Once inside, I try to sneak upstairs so nobody sees what a bloody mess I am, careful to keep my shirt against my mouth so I don’t drip blood on the carpet.

  I head straight for the bathroom. Problem is, Kiara is walking out of it just as I try to enter it.

  She takes one look at me, gasps, and covers her mouth with her hand. “Carlos! Oh my God, what happened?”

  “You still recognize me with a busted-up face. That’s a good sign, right?”



  My heart pounds wildly in fear and shock as Carlos moves past me and leans over the sink.

  “Close the door,” he says, moaning in pain as he spits blood into the sink. “I don’t want your parents to see me. ”

  I lock the door and rush to him. “What happened?”

  “I got my ass kicked. ”

  “That’s obvious. ” I grab a navy towel off the rack and wet it in the sink. “By who?”

  “You don’t want to know. ” He rinses out his mouth, then looks at himself in the mirror. His lip is cut and still bleeding, and his left eye is swollen. By the way he’s leaning on the sink I can just imagine how the rest of him feels.

  “I think you need to go to the hospital,” I tell him. “And call the police. ”

  He turns to me and winces, the movement obviously painful. “No hospital. No police,” he says, moaning each word. “I’ll be better in the mornin’. ”

  “You don’t believe that. ” When he winces again, I feel his pain as if it’s my own. “Sit,” I say, pointing to the edge of the tub. “I’ll help you. ”

  Carlos must really be drained emotionally as well as physically, because he sits on the edge of the tub and stays still while I wet the towel again and gently wipe the blood off the lips that only last night were smiling when I kissed him. They’re not smiling now.

  I carefully dab at his open cuts, painfully aware of how close we are. He stills my hand as I move the towel across his swollen face. “Thanks,” he says as I look into his sad eyes.

  I need to break the intensity of his gaze, so I wet the towel in the sink, and wring it out. “I just hope the other guy looks worse. ”

  He lets out a small laugh. “There were five other guys. They all look better than me, although I held my own for a while. You would’ve been proud. ”

  “I doubt that. Did you start it?”

  “I don’t remember. ”

  Five guys? I’m afraid to ask more details, because just looking at his injuries is making my stomach queasy. But I want to know what happened to him. An envelope is resting on the sink. I pick it up and notice money peeking out of the top. Hundred-dollar bills. A bunch of them. I hold out the envelope to Carlos. “Is this yours?” I ask tentatively.

  “Sort of. ”

  A million different scenarios about how Carlos got the money start swimming around in my head. None of them are good, but now isn’t the time to drill him about how or why he’s carrying a load of cash. He’s hurt, and I might have to insist on bringing him to the hospital.

  I hold up a finger in front of me. “Follow my finger with your eyes. I want to make sure you don’t have a concussion. ”

  I pay close attention to his pupils as he tracks my moving finger. He seems fine, but he’s following my orders without any argument, and that scares me. I’d feel much better if he’d get checked by a professional.

  “Take off your shirt,” I tell him. I search my medicine cabinet for Tylenol.

  “Why, you want to fool around again?”

  “Not funny, Carlos. ”

  “You’re right. But I’ve got to warn you. If I lift my arm over my head I might pass out. My side is killin’ me. ”

  Knowing his shirt is already ripped and ruined, I pull out scissors from one of the bathroom drawers and cut a line down the front.

  “After you’re done, can I return the favor?” he jokes.

  I’m trying to act like we’re just friends, but he keeps throwing me curveballs and it’s confusing me. “I thought you didn’t want to get involved. ”

  “I don’t. I want to numb the pain, and figure that seein’ you naked right about now might help. ”

  “Here,” I say, shoving Tylenol and a paper cup filled with tap water into his hand.

  “Got anythin’ stronger?”

  “No, but I’m sure if you let me take you to the hospital they’ll give you something stronger. ”

  Without answering, he throws his head back and swallows the pills. I peel off his cut shirt and try not to gasp again as I examine his injuries. I noticed a few old scars on his body before, but the damage done today to his back and chest is downright nasty.

  “I’ve been in fights before,” he says as if that’s supposed to make me feel better.

  “Maybe you should avoid them altogether,” I suggest as I gently wipe down his back and chest. “You’ve got cuts and bruises on your back,” I tell him. The sight of each mark makes me want to cry for him.

  “I know. I can feel every one. ”

  When I’m done wiping off all the blood, I step back. He tries to smile, but his lip is so swollen it’s lopsided. “Do I look better?”

  I shake my head. “You can’t hide this from my parents, you know. One look at you and they’ll be asking questions. ”

  “I don’t want to think about that. Not now, at least. ” He stands up, grabs his stomach, and growls in pain. “I’m goin’ to bed. Check on me in the mornin’ to see if I’m still alive. ” Carlos grabs his T-shirt and envelope before heading to his room, then collapses on the bed. When he looks up and realizes I’ve followed him, he says, “Did I thank you?”

  “A few times. ”

  “Good. ’Cause I meant it and I hardly ever say it. ”

  I pull the covers over his aching body. “I know. ”

  I start to walk out of the room, but I hear him start to panic and his breathing gets labored. He reaches out to me. “Don’t go. Please. ”

  I sit next to him on the bed, wondering if he’s afraid of being abandoned. He slings his arm around my thigh and rests his forehead against my knee. “I have to protect you,” he says softly.

  “From who?”

  “El Diablo. ”

  “El Diablo? Who’s that?” I ask.

  “It’s complicated. ”

  What does that mean? “Try to rest,” I tell him.

  “I can’t. My entire body hurts. ”

  “I know. ” I gently rub the arm that’s slung around me until his breathing slows. “I wish I could help you,” I whisper.

  “You are,” he murmurs against my knee. “Just don’t leave me, okay? Everyone leaves me. ”

  As soon as I can sneak out of his room, I’m going to call Alex and tell him and my dad what happened. I imagine Carlos won’t be thankful then. He’ll likely be downright pissed.



  I’m holding on to Kiara, feeling a desperate need to protect her. If I could only move without feeling like crap, I wouldn’t be lulled to sleep with her fingers stroking my arm. While I welcome sleep, I don’t want Kiara out of my sight. Rodriguez could hurt her, and I can’t let that happen. As long as Kiara is safe, está bien. I need to warn Luis and Mamá, too. I just need to sleep off this pain . . . for a few minutes. Kiara’s fingers trailing lines up and down my arm is soothing away the sharpness of the pain. I close my eyes. If I fall asleep for a few minutes, it’s okay.

  The sound of the door creaking makes me open my eyes. I suddenly realize that Kiara’s not sitting beside me anymore. Not that I actually expected her to watch over me while I slept. I attempt to sit up, but I’m so damn stiff every bone, muscle, and joint in my body is protesting. Giving up, I stay on my side, under the blanket, hoping it’s Kiara in the room and not her parents . . . or worse, Brandon. If the kid jumps on me, the result might be ugly.

  I close my eyes. “Kiara?”

  “Yeah. ”

  “Please tell me you’re alone. ”

  “I can’t. ”

  Damn. I sink my head deeper into the pillow in a weak attempt at hiding the evidence on my face.

  “Carlos, tell me what’s going on. Now,” Westford demands in a clipped and very military-like voice. Usually he’s so easygoing and calm . . . not now, though.

  “I got beat up,” I tell him. “I’ll be fine in a couple of days. ”

  “Can you walk?”

  “Yeah, but please don’t make me prove it right now. Maybe later. Maybe tomorrow. ”

  Westford pulls off the covers and curses. I didn’t think the guy had it in him.

  “I wish you wouldn’t have done that,” I tell him. I don’t have a shirt on, and he’s seeing the evidence firsthand. I look up at Kiara, standing beside the bed. “You betrayed me. I told you not to tell them. ”

  “You need help,” she says. “You can’t do this alone. ”

  Westford crouches down so he’s face-to-face with me. “We’re going to the hospital. ”

  “Not a chance,” I tell him.

  I hear more footsteps in the room. “How is he?” my brother asks.

  “Did you call the entire cavalry, or just half of it?” I ask Kiara.

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