As my bare feet hit the cool wood floors, I smelled the acrid afterburn of a fired gun. The air was thick with it down here.
Grabbing the vase I had held the night Hunter had been gone, I clenched it tightly as I approached the kitchen.
I saw a leg first.
A black trouser-clad leg cut across the entrance to the doorway. The shoes were black and recently polished. Shiny. In a numb daze, I crept closer, my gaze following the length of the leg to the odd angle of the waist. The man’s jacket was laid open, revealing a tan gun holster. The gun was on the floor near the open hand.
I didn’t want to look, but I couldn’t stop.
It was Officer Richards on the kitchen floor, and his neck was twisted to the side, nearly turned halfway around. He was dead, very dead.
Oh God… Beside him, propped against the island, was Zombro.
Something… something had happened to his throat. It was pushed in, the fragile bones collapsed. Both of them were dead and Hunter… there was no sign of Hunter.
The vase slipped from my fingers, shattering upon the floor into large ceramic chunks. My throat worked on a scream, but there was no sound. I stumbled back, pressing my hand to my open mouth. This couldn’t be happening.
My brain absolutely refused to process all the death.
Maybe I was dreaming?
No. Everything was too real—the sights, the stench of smoke and death, my pounding heart.
A hand clamped down on my shoulder, and the scream that had been building in my throat ripped through the silence.
Twisting away, I tried to evade the grasp, but an arm snaked around my waist, pulling me back against a hard, bare chest.
“Serena, it’s me. It’s okay.”
Relief shot through me in dizzying speeds. I spun around, pressing my face against his chest. “Oh my God, Hunter, what happened to them?”
There was a moment of hesitation, and then Hunter’s arms swept around me. The embrace was awkward and stiff, but right now, I didn’t care. I held on to him like he was an anchor built only for me.
I inhaled his scent, hoping that it would wash away everything else.
“They found us, didn’t they?”
The word took a few moments to settle and make sense. When it did, I pulled back a little, lifting my head.
I searched Hunter’s striking features.
They were frighteningly empty. Nothing about them reminded me of the man a few short hours ago who had smiled and asked me to stay with him.
A niggle of unease stirred.
“What do you mean?”
“This wasn’t the Luxen,”
he said, his pale eyes meeting mine.
I took a breath, but it got stuck in my throat. That’s when I noticed the duffel bag on the coffee table and that unease grew like a weed, choking me. “Then who…who did that to them?”
My breath caught again.
The room tilted a little, the floor suddenly uneven under my feet.
“You need to go upstairs and pack whatever you can.
Hunter continued, his hands sliding off my back. “We need to leave.”
Taking a step back, I felt my heart drop. Based on what he’d told me about himself, I would’ve run a million miles away from the Hunter of four years ago, but not this Hunter. This one could be prickly and downright menacing sometimes, but there was good underneath.
So why were there dead bodies on the kitchen floor?
I took a deep breath.
“You killed them?”
Impatience flickered across his icy expression.
“I think that’s already been established.”
Knots formed in my belly. For one horrifying instance, the bodies of Richards and Zombro flashed before me. “Why?”
The look on his face said he really didn’t think he had the time to explain the why behind murdering two members of law enforcement.
Anger swirled with fear, a heady and dangerous combination. “I obviously didn’t get the memo, Hunter! The last time I checked,”
I gestured behind me with one shaking hand, “they were on our side.”
“They were never on my side,” he said, thrusting a hand through his hair—a hand that had ended two lives tonight.
God, I was going to vomit.
I started to turn. I needed to get away from him—I needed fresh air.
Pressure was back, building on my chest like a gorilla was sitting on it. A buzzing filled my ears.
Hunter caught me, wrapping one hand around my arm and another clamped down on the back of my neck. My pulse pounded at the firm hold.
“You’re not getting it, Serena.” His intense eyes searched my face. “They came here to kill you, to make sure you never told anyone about what happened—about the Luxen.”
Confused and scared half witless, I pressed a hand to the center of my chest. My heart thudded erratically.
“They decided they’d rather keep the senator and the Luxen happy, and to do so, they were going to kill you. They aren’t on your side. And we need to get the hell out of here.”
When I didn’t move, he lowered his head toward mine. “I know it’s a lot to take in, Serena. You’ve been through some crazy shit and it’s about to get crazier.”
He slid his hands to my cheeks and the coolness of his skin jolted me. “I need you to stay with me, okay? I’m going to get you out of this, but I need you to keep it together.”
“Stay with you?”
Then it hit me. More startling than aliens running amuck, dead officers in the kitchen, or the government wanting to give me a cement swim was that Hunter was helping me.
Hunter frowned. “You can breathe, right? You look like you’re breathing, right—”
“Why?” I grasped his wrists. “Why would you do this? You went against the DOD—the government—to help me? Why would you put yourself out there like that? Now you’re in as much shit as I am.”
Hunter blinked slowly and then pulled his hands away. He took a step back.
“We need to leave, Serena. We don’t—”
“No!” My hands balled into fists as my skin tingled. The thing was, what if I had this whole situation wrong? “I need to know why you’d do this.
Because what do I really know? Let me know it’s okay to trust you.”
He put his hands on his hips and drew in a deep breath. I prepared myself —for what, I wasn’t sure. “I don’t know,” he said.
My mouth worked, but there were no words.
“I don’t know,” he said again, angry. “I don’t know why I did this. All I knew was that I needed to.”
Yeah, that wasn’t telling me much. And it wasn’t a huge declaration of why I should trust him, but that was the thing. Hunter hadn’t asked me trust him.
I don’t think he ever had.
I looked up, meeting Hunter’s pale eyes. The look wasn’t so apathetic now.
If anything, he appeared like he was as confused as I felt.
My hands were shaking as I rubbed them together.
Trusting Hunter was huge.
I could be making a big mistake. What if it was Hunter who wanted to kill me? And he just liked to play with his food first? My heart twisted at that, but a tiny voice inside me told me that wasn’t the case. If Hunter had wanted me dead, he could’ve done it by now. And I had trusted him earlier.
I had to trust him again.
“Okay,” I said, and it felt like I was stepping off a cliff.
Hunter’s lips twitched as if he wished to smile, and the knots in my stomach grew.
I packed what Hunter had bought me in a daze. He had dug up a small suitcase and everything fit.
It only took a few minutes, but it felt like hours. By now I should be used to the unexpected—the bizarre—but I was shell- shocked by the turn of events.
The government wanted me dead.
As I flung my last pair of jeans into the suitcase, my heart skipped a beat. How in the world could I survive this if the government was also in it? There’d be nowhere I could go. I’d never have control over my life again.
The enormity of the situation pressed down upon me. I felt the telling catch of my breath again and swore.
I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. I did trust Hunter. And right now he was all that I had to count on.
Zipping up my suitcase, I quickly scanned the room for anything else I needed.
There was nothing and there was no time to delay.
Hunter was waiting for me downstairs. His duffel bag was splitting at the seams by the door, but when I got a good look at him, I drew up short.
He’d changed. And not just his clothes it seemed.
Under the thin black shirt, the sinew strength of his muscles strained. His thighs were like tree trunks in black leather pants. The boots he now wore were true ass-kickers. He looked nothing like the man who sat on the deck in the mornings, dressed in worn jeans. What stood before me was a full display of power that went beyond masculinity and was far too menacing. Even the wild tumble of dark hair seemed unpredictable.
Hunter oozed danger, but that wasn’t the only thing he was throwing into the air. Excitement. The kind of danger of a man who could take care of things when they got out of hand and could, and would, fuck you senseless when it was all done.
My cheeks reddened.
Good to know my ovaries were still functioning like sex was going out of style. Jesus. I shook my head. “You look like your brother.”
Hunter arched a single brow.
“I mean, you are his twin and all, but you really look like him.” I paused. “You are Hunter, right?”
A small smile appeared.
“I like what you did with your teeth when you were on your knees before me.”
“Yeah, you’re Hunter.”
Flushing a deep red, I gestured at his bag.
“Where are we going?”
“We need a car. Dex is taking care of that for us.”
“We can trust him?” I asked.
“Absolutely.” He nodded toward the kitchen. “If you want anything to drink, the kitchen is clear. I took care of them.”
I shuddered. I didn’t want to know how he took care of the bodies.
Frankly, as wussy as this made me, I didn’t want to think about them at all.
“I’m fine,” I said. “I’m going to take this outside.”
He gave a sharp nod.
Tugging the suitcase along, I went out on the deck, sort of surprised that he hadn’t made some sort of remark about me not roaming off.
The night was dark and full of deep shadows, but the clean mountain air was soothing. As I propped the luggage against a chair, I felt my tense and tight muscles loosen.
Down below, a black Expedition was parked in the driveway, most likely belonging to the dead officers. Another shiver rippled through me.
Unable to really understand why he’d stopped the agents from doing what they came to do, I grabbed the handle on the suitcase and hauled it down the steps. The whole situation spun my head in circles. Maybe later, if there was a later, I could figure this out.
I turned to head back up the steps, when something blurred past the Expedition. It was like a shadow cast from a very tall man. But no one was on the deck. No one was anywhere.