Authors: Evelyn Glass
This is a work of fiction. Any names, characters, places, events, and incidents are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons—living or dead—is entirely coincidental.
Red Ink copyright @ 2015 by Evelyn Glass. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embedded in critical articles or reviews.
Book 2 of the
Mad Jackals Brotherhood MC
Standing outside Eli’s front door, Mia tries to remind herself why she’d insisted to Ray that she do this alone. Lyrics of the song ‘Breaking Up Is Hard To Do’ circle ‘round in her brain and she smiles ruefully to herself, thinking that
doesn’t even begin to cover it. Mia was about to break things off with a man who had been sweet and kind to her, a man who wanted to marry her, a man who wanted to protect her and keep her safe, a good man, in favor of someone who could only be described as an unknown quantity.
That was Ray down to a T. He’d disappeared without a word and returned without any kind of an explanation. And, yet, she couldn’t stay away from him. It must be some kind of sickness or addiction; that’s the only way she can think of it. Being around him is like getting a fix of the best drug known to man and she’s no better than a junkie – the more time she spent with him, the deeper her addiction went. She’d had to wrench herself out of his arms at her office earlier. It would have been far too easy to let things go further than a not-so-innocent kiss. But she couldn’t do that to Eli, not again. He deserved to know what was going on, to know that she couldn’t be with him anymore. That doesn’t mean, however, that she’s relishing what she’s about to do.
Before she has time to change her mind, she lifts her hand and rings the doorbell. Her key for Eli’s house is sitting in her purse, but letting herself into his place after she’s spent the night with Ray just doesn’t seem right. In fact, it seems downright disrespectful. She takes a few deep breaths, summoning all her courage to do what she knows needs to be done.
“Mia!” Eli rushes through the open door to grab her hand and pull her towards him. “It’s so good to see you.” He whispers the words against her ear as he holds her close to him and Mia feels tears prick at the back of her eyes over what she’s about to do.
Eli tries to plant a kiss on her lips but she pulls back, going stiff as a board in his arms. “Let’s get inside, Eli.” The last thing she wants to do is to have this conversation standing on the font porch of his house in full view of his nosy neighbors.
She slips out of his reach and darts inside, heading straight to the kitchen to start a pot of coffee out of habit. She surveys the carnage of the wake of Eli’s poker night – beer bottles line the counter and the smell of cigarette ash is heavy in the air, making Mia wrinkle her nose and push open a window.
She doesn’t turn around to face Eli until he comes up behind her, slipping his hands around her waist. “What’s going on, Mia?”
She tries to slip out of his hold but he clearly has no intention of letting her go and, when it comes to brute force, there’s no competition between her and Eli. He looks at her with a searching gaze but she avoids his eyes, not wanting him to be able to read what she’s done all over her face.
She closes her eyes, trying to draw up the order she had tried to put the things she wanted to say to him in. It had been much easier coming up with a list to follow in the car over here. Now that she’s only a few inches away from him, it’s like trying to remember an algebra problem from the tenth grade – as good as impossible.
“Let’s sit down.” She motions towards the breakfast bar, relieved when Eli lets his arms drop from around her. He obeys silently, taking a seat on the stool opposite her. “Coffee?” She clatters around the kitchen, opening cabinet doors and pouring out two steaming mugs, automatically adding cream and sugar to Eli’s and leaving hers black. Her dad warned her she was going to get an ulcer one day from all the black coffee she drank. Her dad, she had to go see him, to see how he was doing, to tell him about Ray. He had been so upset when she’d broken the news to him about his death, or she should say, his supposed death.
“Mia.” Eli’s insistent voice behind her breaks her daydream, bringing her back to the here and now. “You’re stalling.” It’s a flat statement of fact, not an accusation and she feels her shoulders sag a little. Eli knew her better than most people, than almost anyone. He was one of her oldest friends and she was about to screw everything up.
Wordlessly, she hands over his coffee cup but doesn’t take the seat next to him, instead she leans against the counter, wondering where to start. “We need to talk.” She cringes at her own lameness.
“You said that already.” Eli’s eyes catch the light from the Californian midday sun, looking greener than the brown she knows they’re categorized as on his license. They were hazel, really, not quite one color and not quite another. “Mia.” Eli’s voice prompts her again; she can see he’s getting impatient.
The longer she tries to avoid the issue is the worse it’s going to be, so she does the only thing she can think of; she comes right out with the question that’s been burning a hole in her brain for the past seventy-two hours. “Why did you tell me Ray was dead?”
Eli’s eyebrows shoot up. “I told you over the phone. I was just trying to protect you. I didn’t want you to hurt anymore, to be waiting for him to come back. I hated seeing you in pain, Mia.” Eli moves as if to reach out to her but she puts a stop to it, holding up her hand and he freezes.
“So you thought the best thing for me was to lie to me?” Mia shakes her head at how little sense that makes.
“Dammit, Mia, it wasn’t like that! You don’t have any idea of what things were like then! You were a mess when Ray left and you wouldn’t let anyone get close to you afterwards, like you were holding out for him or maybe just too scared to let anyone in. It was like you’d given Ray everything you had.” Eli rakes his fingers through his dark hair, looking frustrated. “I wanted you to snap out of it, to get over him! Besides, I didn’t know for sure that the rumors about him being killed weren’t true! I had no way of knowing one way or the other.”
His tone is defensive and Mia wishes she knew what to believe. She had a pretty good bullshit radar generally, but that was only when it involved other people. She’s invested in this and lost her perspective. If she really wants to get to the bottom of what the hell was going on, she’s going to need to get it back. Easier said than done, she notes to herself.
“You know all this time, you haven’t once asked where Ray is. You don’t have the slightest desire to see him, do you? What the hell happened to the two of you? You were friends, best friends even!” She looks at Eli searchingly, trying to find some answer in his empty expression.
“He didn’t tell you?” Eli’s eyes widen in shock and Mia watches as his shoulders slump, almost imperceptibly in relief.
“Tell me what, Eli?” She looks at him cautiously, unable to keep a shiver of foreboding from running down her spine. “I feel like trying to talk to either of you is harder than getting freakin’ Jack Bauer to spill state secrets!”
Eli’s lips twitch at her reference to one of his favorite shows, but his features quickly spring back into their neutral position, his face a blank page. “What happened is between Ray and me. You don’t need to get involved. But let’s just say we won’t be meeting up for a beer anytime soon.”
Mia resists the urge to scream. She had never known it was possible to feel quite so frustrated. She had thought Ray was the unknown quantity but now it seemed Eli had secrets of his own that he had no intention of sharing with her. Whatever had happened between the two of them, it had ruined their friendship, ground it into dust under their feet. But whose fault had it been? Who was in the wrong? It was hard to ignore the look of relief on Eli’s face when he’d realized that Ray hadn’t spilled the beans to her. Had Eli done something he was terrified of her finding out about?
“If he didn’t tell you, then why the big ‘we need to talk’ conversation?” Eli relaxes in his seat, splaying his legs out and looking like a weight has just been lifted from his mind.
“So whatever Ray may have had to tell me might have made me feel differently about us, about you and me?” Mia gives voice to the fear in her head and she’s rewarded with a flicker of something in Eli’s eyes that’s gone as quickly as it’s come, leaving her to wonder if she’s seeing things that aren’t there.
“Ray will say whatever he thinks he needs to to get what he wants. I wouldn’t trust a damn thing that comes out of his lying mouth.” Eli’s own mouth twists with the bitterness of his words and Mia’s jaw drops in shock, unable to hide her surprise. “What?” He raises an eyebrow at her in a gesture that’s so reminiscent of Ray she has to shake her head to get the image out of her head.
“I don’t know what to say.” She leans against the counter, looking down at the floor, wondering how everything had got so messed up in so short a period of time. Eli had been her rock, her stability, the good guy, the one she could count on, the one who would never lie to her. The events of the last few days had thrown those assumptions out of the window.
But if Eli isn’t the man she thought he was, how could she trust anything she thought she knew? She pushes away the persistent voice in her brain that tells her the same about Ray. He’d been gone for a long time, how much can she really trust what he had told her? No, Mia, you can’t go down that road, she tells herself. It’s a slippery slope and once you’ve gone down it, there won’t be any going back. Her feelings for Ray had been a constant; she has to trust them, or what was she left with?
“What did you come here to say, Mia? Because from the look on your face I know you’re not here because you miss me.” Eli says, with sharpness in his eyes that Mia has never seen before.
Mia feels her shoulders sag as she forces herself to look up from the floor. He’s called her out and she knows she can’t carry on putting the spotlight on him when she’s the one who’s really in the wrong here. It’s time to stop avoiding what she had to do, just because she didn’t want to do it.
“I’m so sorry, Eli.” She locks eyes with his, seeing the hurt flash across his face before tears blur her vision.
“Sorry for what? Tell me, Mia, I’m going crazy here.” Eli has closed the distance between them in a flash and has taken hold of her upper arms, willing her to talk to him.
“Ray and I have seen each other a couple of times, when I told you I was meeting up with Cassie or working late. He’d asked me to meet him.” Mia takes a deep breath, telling herself to stop being such a baby. “We got to talking about how things were before, about us and…one thing led to another.”
“You kissed him.” The words come out through gritted teeth, interrupting the stilted flow of her explanations. It’s even harder than she had thought it would be – admitting to being a cheater, something she had always loathed. When Cassie had told her she was seeing two guys at the same time, Mia had been the first to get on her high horse and tell her friend to break it off with one of them. But what she had done was worse than anything Cassie had ever done – she had betrayed a man who she had spent years with, who she’d loved.
“Worse than that.” She tries to drop her gaze, but Eli won’t let her, lifting her chin up so that she has to look at him.
“You slept with him?” The incredulity in Eli’s voice mixed with the hurt in his eyes is more than she thinks she can bear.
She can feel the guilt weighing her down, making her feel like she’s being pushed into the floor. “I’m so sorry, Eli. It should never have happened.” She shakes her head, wishing she could find the right words to say to fix things, to make Eli feel better about what she’d just told him, to make herself feel better. But deep down she knows there are no words that can do that; she has done a bad thing and she would have to live with the consequences, whatever they may be. Eli would hate her, forever, and that’s only as much as she deserved.
“Who are you?” Eli looks at her and it’s more than hurt; it’s disappointment and it hits her like a punch to the solar plexus. “You’re like a different person.” His fingers tighten on her arms and she breathes in as pain shoots up to her shoulders. But he drops his hands from her as soon as he realizes he’s hurt her.
He steps away from her and Mia can’t help but take a step towards him. She wants to explain. “I never meant to hurt you, Eli. I never wanted to do that.” Her voice is firm despite the trembling she feels going through her body. “I thought he was dead, and then when he reappeared…everything came rushing back.” She bites her lip when Eli lifts up his hand to stop her in her tracks. She curses herself for being so insensitive – the last thing he probably wants to hear is how she feels about Ray.
“When? When did it happen?” Eli’s hazel eyes look darker than she’s ever seen them and his jaw is set, like he’s preparing himself for the worst.
“Last night.” She lets out a breath, feeling almost relieved as she lets go of the secret she’d been keeping.
“Last night.” Eli repeats her words as if he’s trying to get his head around it. He closes his eyes and she wonders if he’s counting to ten like she’d taught him to do whenever he got the urge to tell a difficult customer exactly what he thought of them. “I can live with that.”
Mia’s eyes go wide as saucers as she takes on board Eli’s words. For a few seconds she doesn’t think she could have heard him right, but the warmth in his eyes tells her that she has and she feels lower than dirt. “You would forgive me? You would still want to be with me after I’d done that to you?” She can hardly believe that anyone would be so understanding, least of all Eli who got jealous when another guy so much as looked at her.
“I don’t think there’s anything that I wouldn’t forgive you for, Mia.” Eli shakes his head at himself as if he knows how badly he’s got it. “I’ll always want to be with you. I always have.” He shrugs as if to say that it’s just that simple and Mia wants to crawl back under the rock that she came from. “That’s never been the problem. The question is more if you want to be with me?”
Mia swallows hard as he gives her a look that’s so hopeful it damn near breaks her heart. She can’t look at him anymore. This man cares about her, really and truly cares, and she’s thrown that all away as if it didn’t matter. But no matter how much she wished it were different, Ray makes her feel like no one else. He is the one; he always has been. Pretending anything else would just be worse for Eli in the long run.
The silence stretches out between them and eventually Eli’s words come out in broken gulps, like he’s trying to keep his emotions from running away with him. But if his voice is anything to go by he’s fighting a losing battle. “Are you in love with him?”
Mia opens her mouth and closes it again, realizing that whatever she says other than the truth is going to come out trite and wouldn’t be fair to him. After the way she’d treated Eli, he at least deserved her to be completely honest with him. Her voice is an inaudible whisper, but from the way Eli grabs hold of her arm and spins her around she knows he’s heard her.
The look in Eli’s eyes is more than hurt; it’s more than anger; it’s pure rage. “You think you know Ray? You don’t know anything about him! You don’t know anything about the world that he’s mixed up in. He’s dangerous, Mia! Can’t you see that? Do you think the Mad Jackals are just a group of motorbike enthusiasts who like to wear leather as they help little old ladies cross the street? Wake up, Mia!” Eli is shouting in her face and his hold on her arms has tightened again. He’s using his height, towering over her, intimidating her.
“Eli, you’re hurting me.” Her words come out quietly but there’s a flash of recognition on Eli’s face and his grip on her relaxes a little, but he doesn’t back away.
“He’s going to hurt you, Mia. And they won’t think twice about going through you to get to him.” Eli shakes her hard, making her feel like a rag doll.
“They? They who, Eli? What are you talking about?” She frowns up at him, trying to understand what he’s telling her, trying to make sense of everything in her head.
Eli’s expression changes. For a second there’s fear that darts across his face and then the blinds go down, just like they do with Ray whenever she asks him for a straight answer on his past, on almost anything in fact. “Ask your new boyfriend. I’m sure he’ll be able to answer all your questions.” Eli’s mouth twists in disgust as he releases her and takes one step away from her and then another. He looks at her for the longest time, as if he’s trying to imprint the image of her standing there on his mind. Finally he sighs deeply and sounds far older than he should. “You should go.”
Mia bites her lip, reaching out towards him. “Eli, please, I don’t want to leave things like this.”
Eli looks at her kindly and her stomach drops into her feet. After all she’s done to him, she doesn’t have any right to demand things end the way she wants them to.
“If you need me, I’ll be here.” Eli smiles at her sadly, his eyes soft. “Ray will hurt you, and I’ll be there to pick up the pieces, just like I was before.” He seems so sure of himself, so certain of what he is saying that his words take Mia aback.
“Eli.” She doesn’t know what it is that she wants to say, just that she doesn’t want to see the hurt in his eyes and know she’s the one who put it there. But there’s nothing she can do to take it away, nothing she can do to make it right. This was her fault, simple as that.
“I’ll see you soon, Mia.” He doesn’t wait for her to answer, turning around and heading out of the kitchen, not stopping until she hears the bathroom door close quietly behind him. No slams, no recriminations, no screaming at her that she’s a whore or a slut or any of the other choice words she’d called herself in her own head. He was calm and that was almost more unnerving than if he’d screamed the house down.
Mia feels wetness on her cheeks and she wonders how long she’s been crying for. She entertains the idea of knocking on the door and telling him how sorry she is again, how she’d never meant to hurt him. But all she would be doing is sounding like a broken record, trying to make herself feel better.
So she does what he’s asked of her, she gets out of his house. But first, she grabs a bag and shoves as many of her clothes and things as she can from his bedroom. She doesn’t have any intention of coming back here anytime soon. She doesn’t think she could take seeing the pain in his eyes, not if she could help it.
, she accuses. She shrugs at herself in the mirror, no arguments there.
As she heads towards the front door, she keeps going over Eli’s words, his certainty that Ray was going to hurt her, that ‘they,’ whoever they might be, were going to hurt her. Eli wouldn’t give her any more of an explanation. It almost looked like he was scared to say any more. But scared of what? She had come here looking for closure, prepared to be angry with Eli for lying to her about Ray’s death and, at the same time, guilt-ridden in her betrayal of him. But Eli’s sweetness and protectiveness had made it impossible for her to be mad at him. The man had told her he would be waiting for her when Ray made his inevitable exit. That was something that she could never have expected.