“I’m not just some piece of property, dammit!” she snarls at me before standing up from the bed. “I still have my head on my shoulders. It’s up to me to make decisions, not you, and definitely not that asshole.”

“Decisions that could cost you and others by making the wrong choices,” I say.

Pacing back and forth in front of me, she stops cold.

“What do you mean?” she hisses at me, her anger palpable.

With a small grin, I say, “Do you really think you’d be so lucky as to be the only one hurt if this goes to full-scale war? That you’re the only one affected by this?”

“Again, what do you mean?” she snarls out.

“Beth,” I say with a shrug.

“What does this have to do with her?” she asks, and that righteous anger is fading away at the mention of Johnathan’s wife.

“You met her. From what I remember, you liked her and their son Charlie, right?” I ask.

“Are you threatening them!?” she asks, balling up her fists.

Her posture stiffens as she stalks toward me.

“Fuck, no. I don’t kill kids, Meghan. But Alexei sure does. Ever wonder how Johnathan and Beth met? Does she look like she’s old enough to have a boy Charlie’s age?” I ask. “Think about how old he looked, then look at those two. They’ve been married for less than a year. Beth’s only just now hitting her twenties. Charlie doesn’t look like either of them, does he?”

“What the hell are you saying?” she asks.

“I caught a bit of their history. Alexei, the same guy who wanted to marry you, was running a slave ring,” I say.

Eyes wide, she says, “What?”

“Yeah, that same slave ring was floating through Garden City, and more than likely Bethlehem. Lucifer didn’t take kindly to that shit going on. Beth got snatched right outside of Johnathan’s bar.”

“Oh my god,” she says as she stands there, looking at me in shock.

“The inner circle staged a quick operation to take down that slave ring and got Beth back, along with some of her friends. Charlie, it seems, was a tag along on that. The Russians were going to sell the boy off to someone who would’ve done some truly dark shit.”

“He’s just a small boy…” she says.

“A small boy who’s seen more bad shit in his life than most.”

“And Beth?” she asks.

“One of her friends got in the way and paid the price. The others… I don’t know. I think her friend Sophia is okay. Beth got her pound of flesh, but they didn’t catch Alexei.”

“Alexei…” she whispers.

“Yep, the one and the same. You’re not the only innocent out there that’s been hurt by that fuck. He’s out there right now, planning or doing more shit. Like I said, you need to listen to what the hell I say.”

“I’m your guardian fucking angel,” comes out of my mouth as I stand up before her.

“How long will you be gone?” she asks.

“A few hours. We’ve got food in the house now… Don’t answer the door,” I say, and take her delicate hand in mine.

Pulling her forward, I wrap my arms around her shoulders. I don’t think I’ll ever get over how fucking small she is compared to me. Or the way it feels like she was made for my body. Made to fit me perfectly.

“Okay,” she murmurs into my chest.

“I’m leaving the handgun and the AR-15 with you. I’ll pick up your body armor after I check out the bank. Then we’re going to head out to the gun range. You need to show me what you can do.”

“Promise me we’ll get Alexei,” she whispers, looking up into my eyes.

“I promise we will.”

* * *

A burnt-out husk of a building looks pretty fucked up in the dawn’s early light. If Alexei wanted to send a message, he sure as fuck did it right.

Message received.

Putting the phone to my ear, I stare at the smoldering building while the fire department slowly combs through it.

“I have Lucifer on the line with us,” Simon says.

“How’s the property?” Lucifer asks.

“You can’t see this shit from all the security cameras we have around here?” I ask as I look up to one and shoot the middle finger.

“We do, but what’s your impression? You’re the explosive expert,” Lucifer says with a growl.

“They used some seriously heavy materials to hit this level of devastation,” I say.

Even the vault and safety deposit are in bad shape. Everything was blown to fucking bits. This was a tough job to do. You could have used a rocket launcher and not have gotten these results.

“I’ve put out to the media that this was a disgruntled person we foreclosed on,” I say as I start walking around the building.

I’m surprised that Alexei had this kind of team working here in the states. This is some heavy fucking shit he’s blowing up.

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