My breath echoes in my ears as I grip the gun in my hand. Adrenaline is pulsing through me, and it takes all of my control to focus, to turn the panic into action.
My legs burn, and my feet feel like they’ve got lead weights strapped to them, but I ignore it all because I can’t fail. Someone has taken what belongs to me, and that was their final mistake. I’m going to rip their world apart and make them pay for daring to touch her.
I shake my head, unable to think about them putting their hands on my love. I can deal with that later. First, I have to make it to her while her heart still beats. There is no alternative.
“Stay alive,” I whisper as I make it to the edge of the compound.
She owned me the moment I first saw her, and there’s nothing I wouldn’t go through to get her back. I close my eyes and picture Jay on her side, looking at me, the sun shining behind her. The way the light on her neck and shoulder made her look like an angel. It’s the final image I hold in my heart as I step through the tree line and take back what’s mine.
These guys don’t know, but you can’t steal what’s already been claimed.
“Yo, Pop!” I yell through the house as I close the front door behind me.
I can see through the kitchen out onto the back porch where he’s sitting. I make my way out to him and glance around the place as I go.
This was my childhood home, so this place is more familiar to me than anywhere. Walking down the hall, I automatically kiss my fingers and touch the picture of my mom hanging on the wall as I pass, silently saying hello to her like every time I enter the house.
I grew up in Brooklyn, New York, in a small suburb on the edge of Queens. It was safe and clean, and when I was a kid I played for hours on the streets outside the house with my buddies. So many good memories surround this place, and I always feel safe when I come home.
My mom and dad were second-generation immigrants, so tradition is the most important thing. When my mom died when I was seventeen, I thought it might be the end of my dad. Hell, I’d thought it might be the end of me, too. She was the light of our lives and the center of our trio. Her death was also the reason for the scar on my face.
“There you are. Where’s my scratch-off?”
My dad smiles, and the lines around his eyes crinkle. He’s sitting on the back deck with the newspaper and a cup of coffee, his standard spot for Sunday afternoon. I finished up sparring with the guys and Paige, and headed out to spend the rest of my day relaxing with Dad like we do every Sunday.
I hand him his ticket, and he pulls a coin out of his pocket, kissing it before he starts scratching the ticket. I smile at him and shake my head. I guess we’ve both got our superstitions.
He doesn’t buy the scratch-off tickets himself, so I have to do it for him. I think it’s his own way of restraining himself, and this way he’s not responsible if he loses, I am. I come out to see him every Sunday, and this is always our routine. Sometimes I come home in the middle of the week, but he’s so busy that most of the time he’s not even home.
I’m lucky that my dad is still healthy and has a solid group of friends who keep him on the go. He’s got more going on his social calendar in one week than I do in a month. It’s nice not having to worry so much and to know that at least part of him is happy. I know he’ll never get over losing Mom, just like I won’t, but he’s been able to live his life, and that’s what she would’ve wanted.
When he’s finished scratching, he’s got a winner and slides it back to me. Then he puts the coin away and winks at me. “Press it for next week.”
I put the winner in my pocket and nod, knowing he’ll probably hit another then, too. The old man has more luck than anybody I’ve ever met.
Pop leans forward and looks over the top of his bifocals. “How’s our girl?”
I glance down at my watch and then roll my eyes. “That only took about five minutes this time.”
His smile widens as he waits for me to answer him. I ignore him and try to change the subject. He’s been on me about her for a while, knowing that I’m already in love with her. If it was up to him, we’d be married with grandbabies on the way.